Artwork by Lawren Stewart Harris,  Autumn Leaves
Thumbnail of Artwork by Lawren Stewart Harris,  Autumn Leaves Thumbnail of Artwork by Lawren Stewart Harris,  Autumn Leaves Thumbnail of Artwork by Lawren Stewart Harris,  Autumn Leaves

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Cowley Abbott
326 Dundas St West
Toronto ON M5T 1G5
Ph. 1(416)479-9703

Lot #16

Lawren Harris
Autumn Leaves

oil on canvas
signed with initials and dated 1910 lower right
25 x 20 in ( 63.5 x 50.8 cm )

Auction Estimate: $400,000.00$300,000.00 - $400,000.00

Private Collection, Ontario
Mayberry Fine Art, Winnipeg
Private Collection, Vancouver
Paul Duval, "Lawren Harris: Where the Universe Sings", Toronto, 2011, page 60
The year 1910 was a pivotal one for Lawren Harris, as he had returned to Toronto after completing his artistic training in Berlin, as well as travelling in the Middle East. Harris set up his first studio, located above Giles’ grocery store, north of Bloor and Yonge Streets and was a member of the Arts and Letters Club, which was becoming increasingly active as a bastion of creativity. Harris also married in 1910 to Beatrice (Trixie) Phillips, on the 20th of January. He saw his hometown with a new perspective, launching into both his painting career and career as a married man.

Harris’s interest in the poorer areas of the city gained him a reputation as a socialist painter. His colourful “house portraits” were considered out of the ordinary and even controversial at the time, as he focused on painting the buildings and streets of Toronto from 1910 to 1918. "Autumn Leaves" is a departure from this hyper-focused period of depicting the urban areas of the city. Instead, executing a luminous, decorative landscape painting. The golden leaves of the beech trees and the dappled light are captivating. The vantage point Harris has chosen allows an intimate quality to the work, illuminating the composition with light and serenity as leaves slowly fall to the ground.

The American Impressionist painter Childe Hassam was an influential figure for Harris at this time. Childe was a painter of the urban scene, an industrious artist whom Harris would have been aware of after his training abroad. "Autumn Leaves" is a pure venture into the technique of Impressionism, with a brilliant display of light, colour and brushwork. The lively and engaging surface is akin to Hassam’s style, playing on the effects of light and shadow. The decorative quality and application of paint in quick dashes of pigment effectively represents the shimmer of light in the leaves of the trees. Perhaps Harris was eager to explore the romanticism of nature, a consistent theme in Hassam’s work.

Harris was painting the streets and buildings of Toronto in an increasingly Impressionist palette in this period, exploring and embodying a fascination with light’s effect on colour and experimenting with a high-key colour palette. In "Lawren Harris: Where the Universe Sings", Paul Duval highlights "Hurdy Gurdy", 1913 (Private Collection), a painting that shares many qualities of the early Autumn Leaves. Duval notes that "Hurdy Gurdy" has “the briskly rendered, crisply coloured technique closer to American rather than French Impressionism”. This observation can be applied to Autumn Leaves, a painting akin to "Hurdy Gurdy" with its rich colour palette, vigorous brushwork, dappled light and inclusion of a softly rendered screen of beech trees. "Autumn Leaves" is a unique work within the early oeuvre of Lawren Harris, signifying the various shifts and developments in his painting during the prime years of his career.
Sale Date: May 30th 2024

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Cowley Abbott
326 Dundas St West
Toronto ON M5T 1G5
Ph. 1(416)479-9703

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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