Artwork by Lawren Stewart Harris,  Algoma (Algoma Sketch 48)

Lawren Harris
Algoma (Algoma Sketch 48)

oil on panel
inscribed “Lawren Harris” and “Algoma Sketches XL VIII” by Doris Mills on a label on the reverse
10.5 x 14 ins ( 26.7 x 35.6 cms )

Sold for $977,500.00
Sale date: May 31st 2016

Provenance:
Mellors-Laing Galleries, Toronto, circa 1940
Ian S. Waldie, Toronto
By descent to the current Private Collection, Australia
Literature:
“The Paintings of Lawren Harris Compiled by Mrs. Gordon Mills July-Dec. 1936”, Algoma Sketches (typescript, Library and Archives of the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa)
Lawren Harris first travelled to Algoma with Dr. James MacCallum, patron of Tom Thomson and co-financier of the Studio Building, in May 1918. Enchanted by what he saw, Harris returned in August with fellow artists J.E.H. MacDonald and Frank Johnston. Following his discharge from the army and return to Toronto, A.Y. Jackson would join Harris and the other artists on trips along the Algoma Central Railway in September 1919, and in May and fall of 1920. As Jackson noted in his autobiography, “A Painter’s Country” (1958), “Since this country was on the height of land, there were dozens of lakes, many of them not on the map. For identification purposes we gave them names. The bright sparkling lakes we named after people we admired like Thomson and MacCallum; to the swampy ones, all messed up with moose tracks, we gave the names of the critics who disparaged us.”

This lovely autumn sketch of an island on a sparkling lake was painted in Algoma in the fall of 1919 or 1920 and served as the basis of the magnificent canvas “Island, MacCallum Lake” (Vancouver Art Gallery) that Harris exhibited in the second Group of Seven exhibition in May 1921. All of the basic elements are found in the sketch, but in the canvas the rocks and trees are more stylized, the colour hotter and more acid and the sky less lyrical and more dramatic and moody.

The new expressive element in Harris’ art was not welcomed by Group associate Barker Fairley of the University of Toronto. In an article on Harris in the June 1921 issue of “The Canadian Forum,” Fairley wrote, “his pictures as a whole have seemed disturbingly arbitrary, perspicuous enough in outward fact but in mental attitude provocative and even abnormal. The extremist example of his present work is “Island, MacCallum Lake”…It is a smallish canvas almost completely filled by a bizarre little island in Algoma completely covered by a grotesque clump of trees which are quite possibly true in outline to the actual vegetation… It expresses to the intelligence the weirdness of the North Country, but it does not evoke the feeling of nature nor even place one out-of-doors. The point of view seems to have been dictated by the intellect and directed towards the curious and the occult…One misses the organic sense of all-round growth…When compared with some of his contemporaries he is not a landscape artist at all; he does not penetrate nature.”

In spite of Fairley’s reticence, the subject was one that Harris would return to in at least three subsequent canvases, two of which were inventoried by Doris Mills in 1936 when numerical titles were given to the various subjects in Harris’ art. “Northern Island, Northern Painting XXV” of 1924 (offered at Joyner Fine Art, Toronto, 25-26 November 1986, lot 105) was reworked in another canvas sold at Sotheby’s, Toronto, 17 May 1989, lot 170) in which the background foliage was reduced to silhouetted islands and white stratus clouds recede into the distance. Mills’ inventory includes a third unfinished canvas, “Island, Northern Painting XXI” in which Harris retained the silhouetted forms however the central island is framed by billowing cumulus clouds. There are at least three drawings for this latter work, two reproduced in Bess Harris and P.G. Colgrove’s book on Lawren Harris (1969) p. 40 and one with Yaneff Gallery, Toronto, (reproduced in “artmagazine,” X:41 November-December 1978, p. 3) all incorrectly identified as having been drawn in Algonquin Park in 1912.

We extend our thanks to Charles Hill, Canadian art historian, former Curator of Canadian Art with 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.
Nearly doubling its auction estimate, “Algoma Sketch 48” tripled the previous auction record for an Algoma oil sketch by Lawren Harris.

Share this item with your friends

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. Upon returning to Ontario he met J.E.H. MacDonald who shared his vision of a new and distinctive way of depicting the Canadian landscape. 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. 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.