Artwork by Lawren Stewart Harris,  Brazeau Snowfield, Jasper Park. Mountain Painting XII

Lawren Harris
Brazeau Snowfield, Jasper Park. Mountain Painting XII

oil on canvas
signed and dated 1924 lower right; numbered 190 upon the “Lawren Harris LSH Holdings Ltd.” stamp and numbered 5015 upon a National Gallery of Canada stamp on the reverse; inscribed with the artist’s name, the title and “Mountain Paintings XII” on a label affixed to the reverse
48 x 59.5 in ( 121.9 x 151.1 cm )

Auction Estimate: $3,000,000.00$2,000,000.00 - $3,000,000.00

Price Realized $1,800,000.00
Sale date: May 30th 2024

Collection of the Artist
LSH Holdings Limited, 1963
Mira Godard Gallery, Toronto/Calgary
Private Collection, Vancouver
Roberts Gallery, Toronto
A.K. Prakash & Associates, Toronto (1996)
Corporate Collection, Toronto (1998)
Galerie Walter Klinkhoff, Montreal (1998)
The Art Emporium, Vancouver
Joyner Fine Art, auction, 21 November 2000, lot 82
Kenneth R. Thomson, Toronto
Masters Gallery, Calgary
Private Collection
"Group of Seven Exhibition of Paintings", Art Gallery of Toronto, 9 January-2 February 1925, no. 19
"Lawren Harris Retrospective Exhibition of his Paintings, 1910-1948", Vancouver Art Gallery, 1-20 March, 1949, no. 49 as "Brazeau Snowfield, Rocky Mountains"
[Lawren Harris], Edmonton Museum of Art; travelling to Calgary Allied Arts Centre, March-June 1953
"Lawren S. Harris: Urban Scenes and Wilderness Landscapes", Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 1978, no. 146
E.P. Taylor Library & Archives, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto: AGO Archives: Exhibitions Curatorial Box 23, File 1: Harris Retrospective 1948 and A.5.8 – Private Works of Art, Box 3, file 1. Photographs of Canadian Art, Box 6, File 30, Library and Archives, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa: 7.1-Correspondence with Artists – Harris; 1.71-H Gifts-Bequests-Harris; 5.5-Harris Exhibition 1948, and Curatorial File, L.S. Harris "January Thaw Edge of Town" (acc. 5005)
Bess Housser, 'In the Realm of Art, Impressions of the Group of Seven', "The Canadian Bookman", February 1925, page 33
"The Paintings of Lawren Harris Compiled by Mrs. Gordon Mills", July- December 1936 (Library and Archives, National Gallery of Canada) as "Brazeau Snowfield, Jasper Park. Mountain Painting XII"
'Canadian Art Given Gallery', "London Free Press", 22 April 1950
Carl Weiselberger, 'Lawren Harris Donates 12 Paintings to Gallery', "Ottawa Journal", 22 April 1950
R. W. Hedley, 'Paintings by Lawren Harris Displayed in Museum of Arts', "Edmonton Journal", 16 March 1953
'Harris Paintings Exhibit Opens', "Calgary Herald", 6 June 1953
Bess Harris & R.G.P. Colgrove, "Lawren Harris", Toronto, 1969, reproduced page 69, dated 1926
Jeremy Adamson, "Lawren S. Harris: Urban Scenes and Wilderness Landscapes, 1906-1930", Toronto, 1978, pages 167-170, reproduced page 171
Peter Larisey, "Light for a Cold Land: Lawren Harris’s Work and Life – An Interpretation", Toronto, 1993, pages 103, 106
Lisa Christensen, "A Hiker’s Guide to the Rocky Mountain Art of Lawren Harris", Calgary, 2000, page 132 note 43
Joyner Canadian Art, Toronto, 21 November 2000, lot 82, unpaginated, as "Brazeau Snowfield, Jasper Park. Mountain Paintings XII"
Paul Duval, "Lawren Harris", Toronto, 2015, page 392, reproduced on dedication page
In 1924 Lawren Harris and A.Y. Jackson travelled to Jasper Park in the Rocky Mountains and sketched at Maligne Lake and in the Tonquin Valley. Harris was so enthused by the experience that in one day he painted five sketches of Coronet Mountain and the Brazeau Icefield (see lot 125). This was the beginning of Harris’ life-long fascination with the mountains and he exhibited five mountain canvases with the Group of Seven at the Art Gallery of Toronto in January 1925, including his famous painting "Maligne Lake, Jasper Park" (National Gallery of Canada). Eric Brown, the National Gallery’s Director, wrote to Harold Mortimer Lamb in Vancouver on 17 January 1925, “I have just seen the Group of Seven show in Toronto. It contains many pictures done in the Rockies last year and is excellent, and much the most interesting show of modern Canadian painting ever seen.”

The city’s critics were startled and delighted by the new subject matter. Fellow Arts and Letters Club member Augustus Bridle wrote in the "Toronto Star Weekly" on 10 January 1925. “One might say that the whole show is an expanse of lakes and foothills between one Mount Harris and another Mount Harris.... He has put these piles of granite into a powerful mental press and squeezed out of them every common ocular property of mountains leaving only their cold austere sublimity. He does not give you a mountain, but the platonic idea of a mountain, a mathematical infinite series of mountain impressions, something gigantically geometrical and impressively pyramidical, if not veridical, a real brain storm amongst mountains.”

Fellow artist Bess Housser was also impressed by the exhibition, writing in "The Canadian Bookman", “To walk into the Grange Gallery with the Group of Seven on its walls is to find vigor, conviction and an exuberance of vitality pouring toward you. The air is vibrant with courage and the will-to-do. That out-pouring vigor, that vitality, that will and flowing power, is the essence of the Canadian spirit. ... Lawren Harris ... uses locality for the expression of an inner attitude, mood or posture. ... There is a strange quality of rest in the light- bathed forms and vibrant skies even while they seem to vibrate on a high note like a top spinning at full speed. In ‘Brazeau Snow Field, Jasper Park,’ locality has been almost entirely discarded to accentuate the sense of peace of that place, which is beyond the whirling rhythms of activity. Here the onlooker and participator is left curiously free. There seems no intrigue of line or color to draw him into the work itself. There are no accented spots into which he needs must travel. It is a gesture, a salutation. Peace is held in the folds that are almost sculpted over the dark rock forms and in the poised vibrancy of the sky.”

Two canvases of the Brazeau Glacier were developed from three, and possibly all five, of the sketches Harris painted that day. The canvases were "Mountain Glacier, Mountain Paintings VIII" and "Brazeau Snowfield, Jasper Park. Mountain Painting XII". The sketch "Coronet Mountain, Brazeau Glacier" (see lot 125) grew out of the sketch "South End of Maligne Lake" (McMichael Canadian Art Collection) and in a third sketch, "Coronet Glacier, Near Moraine Lake" (Private Collection), Harris further simplified the forms of rocks and ice. A band of lighter brown crowns the foreground ledge and, at the left, the green foliage and snow and rocks have been abstracted and two conical rocks added by the bottom edge. The peak upper right is further cropped and three small clouds float across the sky. This latter sketch was one of three sketches of the Coronet Glacier that Harris selected for inclusion in his retrospective exhibition at the Art Gallery of Toronto in October 1948, but this was the only one exhibited, as catalogue number 129, “One of five sketches made on one day”. A photograph of this latter work was sent to the National Gallery on 3 December 1948.

The composition of the canvas, "Brazeau Snowfield, Jasper Park", being offered here, is largely defined in this latter sketch but with subtle modulations. In the canvas the right foreground is painted in green crowned with a band of lighter, mauve-grey brown. The two conical rocks lower left are more prominent, pointing to the abstract green form that echoes the green lower right. The swelling rhythm of the rocks centre left is repeated in the adjacent shadow and the complex linear pattern of the glacier’s sensuously painted whites, blues and greens looks forward to Harris’ later abstracts. The abruptly cropped peak upper right has become a sheer wall of partially snow-covered rock further compressing the space and creating a dramatic tension between the three elements framing the central rocks, now devoid of snow.

"Brazeau Snowfield, Jasper Park" was stored in the Studio Building when Harris left Toronto for New Hampshire in 1934 and subsequently at the Art Gallery of Toronto where it was inventoried and photographed in September 1947 in preparation for Harris’ retrospective exhibition in October 1948. In that photograph no clouds appear in the sky.
The canvas was not included in the Toronto exhibition but was sent to Vancouver for inclusion in the reduced Harris retrospective at the Vancouver Art Gallery in March 1949. The oil sketch "Coronet Glacier, Moraine Lake" included in the Toronto retrospective was also sent to Vancouver and was possibly one of the twenty untitled sketches in the 1949 exhibition.

In preparation for his Toronto retrospective Harris wrote to the gallery’s curator, Martin Baldwin, in March 1948. “I am very anxious to have three weeks or more before the exhibition opens to retouch some of the paintings, clean some of them, repaint or reglaze some of the frames, etc. There are also a number of corrections I have had in mind for years and now is my chance to make ‘em....” He continued in a subsequent letter, “this would be minor in every case – changes I have had in mind for years. I have made changes on several of the older canvases which I have here and unless people were told they had been repainted in parts no one would know it. In every case the painting has been improved but this has been done in terms of the day the painting was painted.”

Seeing the oil sketch "Coronet Glacier, Moraine Lake" and the canvas "Brazeau Snowfield, Jasper Park" for the first time in almost fifteen years, it was possibly at this time that Harris incorporated into the canvas two of the three clouds depicted in the sketch. In the canvas these two clouds create a dynamic energy across the upper part of the composition, in an area Harris must have found empty in its original form.

Following the closure of the Vancouver show Harris offered "Brazeau Snowfield, Jasper Park" and eleven other canvases as a donation to the National Gallery of Canada. Negotiations concerning the gift continued until 1960 when Harris finally donated ten paintings. "Brazeau Snowfield, Jasper Park" was withdrawn and was retained by the artist until his death.

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