Artwork by Lawren Stewart Harris,  Small Lake in Algoma, 1920

Lawren Harris
Small Lake in Algoma, 1920

oil on wood panel
inscribed “Small lake in Algoma” twice, “$50.00” and “Norah Bouillianne” on the reverse; dated circa 1920 on the exhibition label on the reverse
10.5 x 14 ins ( 26.7 x 35.6 cms )

Auction Estimate: $150,000.00$100,000.00 - $150,000.00

Price Realized $168,000.00
Sale date: December 6th 2023

Laing Galleries, Toronto, prior to 1961
K.R. Thomson, Toronto
Ash Prakash & Associates, Inc., Toronto
Acquired by the present Private Collection, 2005
“Small Pictures and Sculpture by Members of the Ontario Society of Artists”, Art Gallery of Toronto, 8 October 1921, no. 39 as Small Lake in Algoma at $50
“Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven”, Vancouver Art Gallery; travelling to the Glenbow Museum, Calgary; Art Gallery of Hamilton, 30 October 2015‒25 September 2016 as Autumn in Algoma, circa 1920
Nancy Lang and Peter Raymont, “Where the Universe Sings: The Spiritual Journey of Lawren Harris” [movie], 2016
A.Y. Jackson, ‘Sketching in Algoma’, “The Canadian Forum”, 1:6 (March 1921), pages 174‒175
L.S. Harris ‘The Group of Seven in Canadian History’, “The Canadian Historical Association, Report of the Annual Meeting Held at Victoria and Vancouver”, June 16‒19, 1948, with Historical Papers, Toronto, 1948, page 34
Ian Thom, et al., “Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven”, Vancouver/London, 2015, reproduced page 126, caption page 201 as Autumn in Algoma, circa 1920
“Group of Seven in Algoma: Entertainment on Fire”, Algoma Fall Festival, Sault Ste. Marie, 1‒30 October 2015, reproduced on poster
Lawren Harris first travelled to Algoma with Dr. James MacCallum following his discharge from the army in the spring of 1918. “We found Algoma a rugged, wild land packed with an amazing variety of subjects. It was a veritable paradise for the creative adventurer in paint in the Canadian North,” he wrote in 1948. He returned with J.E.H. MacDonald and Frank Johnston in September and an exhibition of their paintings from Canyon, Hubert, Batchewana, Montreal River and Mitchell Lake was held at the Art Museum of Toronto the following spring. Jackson joined the artists in the fall of 1919, and Lismer painted with Harris and Jackson at Mongoose Lake following the opening of the first Group of Seven exhibition in May 1920. MacDonald, Harris, Jackson and Johnston returned to Mongoose Lake and nearby Wart Lake that fall, and in May 1921 Harris, Jackson and Lismer painted on the Agawa River and Montreal Lake. Harris’ last expedition to Algoma was in the fall of 1921 when he painted with Jackson and Lismer at Mitchell and Sand lakes.

Jackson wrote about their sketching trip in the fall of 1920. “The morning mists are slowly dispersing round Mongoose Lake as we start off on the day’s hunting. Being individualists, we mostly go different ways. As there are no roads we can go anywhere. ... M[acDonald] has a predilection for Bald Rock... [and] from here there was an outlook over range on range of forested hills, red and gold with maple and birch, or dark with patches of spruce and pine; here and there the sheen of small lakes; and below the long irregular form of Mongoose.... from Mongoose we went in to twenty‒three lakes and there were indications of others which we did not get to.”

The vast expanse of the hills and myriad lakes of Algoma are superbly evoked in Harris’ sketch “Small Lake in Algoma”. Five pines frame our view overlooking the sinuous lines of a small body of water. Sunlight illuminates the still waters surrounding the small outcrops and islands below and the dark firs by the shore rise to green slopes below the more autumnal orange foliage in the higher hills beyond, the more distant hills outlined in blue.

There are a number of panoramic paintings by Harris, Jackson and MacDonald painted in the fall of 1920. Yet in Harris’ oil sketches, and in his canvas “Algoma Country” (Art Gallery of Ontario (48/9) the striking difference is the overall colouring of the foliage, yellow and khaki green being predominant in all save for “Algoma Country II” (Ottawa Art Gallery) where the browns, greens, oranges and purples create a rolling rhythm across the vast landscape.

As Jackson wrote, “Sketching here demanded a quick decision in composition, an ignoring or summarizing of much of the detail, a searching‒out of significant form, and a colour analysis that must never err on the side of timidity. One must know the north country intimately to appreciate the great variety of its forms. The impression of monotony that one receives from a train is soon dissipated when one gets into the bush. To fall into a formula for interpreting it is hardly possible.”

We extend our thanks to Charles Hill, Canadian art historian, former Curator of Canadian Art at the National Gallery of Canada and author of “The Group of Seven‒Art for a Nation”, for his assistance in researching this artwork and for contributing the preceding essay.

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Lawren Stewart Harris
(1885 - 1970) Group of Seven, Canadian Group of Painters

Lawren Harris was born in Brantford, Ontario and at the age of 19 went to Berlin for academic training. His first two years included study in pencil, charcoal and watercolours. He took instruction in the studio mornings, out-of-doors sketching in the slums of Berlin afternoons, and sketching figures in the studio evenings in watercolour and drawing media. His last two years were spent in the study of portraits and figures in oils. Two of his teachers were Mr. Wille and Mr. Schlabitz. Schlabitz accompanied him in the summer on a walking tour of the Austrian Tyrol where Harris did some sketching. After his study in Germany Harris travelled in Palestine and Arabia with Norman Duncan where he did illustrations. He then visited lumber camps in Minnesota where he made illustrations for Harper’s magazine.

By 1910 Harris was back in Toronto where he saw everything with fresh eyes. His work had more vigour and sensitivity to colour and form. His first studio was located over Giles grocery store, north of Bloor and Yonge Streets. His attraction for the poorer areas of town gained him the reputation of socialist painter. His “house portraits” brought a storm of criticism against him. In Toronto the Arts and Letters Club had been formed only two years before Harris’ return and it was not long before he was an active member. It was at the Arts and Letters Club that Harris first saw the attractive sketches of J.E.H. MacDonald in 1911. Harris and MacDonald became good friends and shared an appreciation of the arts in depth. They visited Buffalo together in January of 1913 to see the exhibition of Scandinavian art which had been reviewed in art magazines. This exhibition made a deep impression on both artists. Harris took sketching trips with MacDonald in 1912 at Mattawa and Timiskaming and in 1913 they went to the Laurentians. Harris met other artists at the Arts and Letters Club. Many of them like MacDonald were working for the Grip Engraving Company as commercial artists.

In 1914 Harris and Dr. James MacCallum conceived the idea of building a studio building which could accommodate Canadian artists of ability who could devote their full attentions to painting, free from the pressures of commercialism. Many Canadian artists were drifting south to the U.S. and it was Harris’ and MacCallum’s hope that such a plan would prevent the loss of all of Canada’s most talented painters. Harris was well off through his connection with Massey-Harris (his grandfather was a founder of the firm) and so was Dr. MacCallum. They realized their plan and the Studio Building was erected on Severn Street in Toronto.

Harris became the driving force behind the Group of Seven. A.Y. Jackson claimed: "Without Harris there would have been no Group of Seven. He provided the stimulus; it was he who encouraged us always to take the bolder course, to find new trails." By 1918 Lawren Harris had travelled to the Algoma region in the company of MacDonald and Johnston. In 1920 they held an exhibition at the Art Museum of Toronto (Art Gallery of Ontario). Harris wrote “The group of seven artists whose pictures are here exhibited have for several years held a like vision concerning art in Canada. They are all imbued with the idea that an art must grow and flower in the land before the country will be a real home for its people…” Harris made his first trip to the North Shore of Lake Superior in 1921.

His search for a deeper spiritual meaning eventually took him to the stark landscapes of the far north. By the late 1920s the artist's work strove to capture the spiritual essence of the bold landforms of the Rockies and the Arctic. Throughout the ensuing decade Harris continued to simplify and abstract his landscapes until his subjects became non-representational. Lawren Harris worked as a member of the Transcendental Group of Painters in Santa Fe, New Mexico for two years, returning to Canada in 1940 and settling in Vancouver for the remainder of his lifetime.

Source: "A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume II”, compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1979