Lot # 141
Spring 2012 - 2nd Session Live auction
Lawren Stewart Harris
ALC BCSFA CGP FCA G7 OSA RPS TPG 1885 - 1970 Canadian
In the Ward
oil on board circa 1920
signed and on verso signed, titled and inscribed "Not for Sale" in graphite
10 3/4 x 11 3/4 in 27.3 x 29.8cm
Private Collection, Ontario
Sold sale of Fine Canadian Art, Heffel Fine Art Auction House, May 2, 2002, lot 31, reproduced front cover
Private Collection, London, England
Charles C. Hill, The Group of Seven, Art for a Nation, 1995, the 1920 canvas entitled In the Ward, in the collection of the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, reproduced page 98, catalogue #15
Andrew Hunter, Lawren Stewart Harris, A Painter’s Progress, The Americas Society, 2000, the 1920 canvas entitled In the Ward, in the collection of the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, reproduced page 19, catalogue #7
Gregory Betts, Lawren Harris In the Ward: His Urban Poetry and Paintings, 2007, page 72, the 1920 canvas entitled In the Ward, in the collection of the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, reproduced page 4 (detail)
Ross King, Defiant Spirits: The Modernist Revolution of the Group of Seven, 2010, pages 202, 206 and 279
Lawren Harris turned his attention to the urban landscape while he was training in Berlin between 1904 and 1907. Upon his return to Canada, he began to document and explore the Toronto cityscape, concentrating on the poor area known as the Ward. It was a community of immigrants of the working class, and just a street away from The Arts and Letters Club where Harris was a frequent visitor. When the war broke out and escalated quickly and with horrifying casualties, it encompassed every aspect of life. The impact on the Harris family was devastating. Both sons – Howard and Lawren – enlisted. Howard was sent to France and was killed in action, leaving Lawren as the only living offspring. A.Y. Jackson had been wounded, and Tom Thomson had mysteriously drowned. It was too much for Harris, who suffered a nervous breakdown and was given a medical discharge from the army.
Back in Toronto, Harris turned again to the cityscape as his painting subject. Much of the Ward, where Harris had painted before the war, had been demolished when the Toronto General Hospital was built in 1913, but the areas adjacent to The Arts and Letters Club still remained, and it was to these regions that Harris returned. He explored alleyways, side streets and storefronts, capturing the people and their lives with an objective gaze translated through his bold, expressive paintings.
Prior to the war, Harris already had a sharp sense of social consciousness. Now it was acute, sensitive to the frequencies of this community of rough-edged citizens and tired souls. These paintings are fascinating. Characterized by vigorous brushwork, they are compelling partly for their technique, which combines frenetic brush-strokes with brilliant, jewel-like colours. Harris achieves the quality of inlaid enamel work in these dazzling canvases, yet this wonderful surface contrasts starkly with the content of the works, which draws us to contemplate them in a deeper manner. In this oil sketch, simply entitled In the Ward, a man faces us, stoic and expressionless, and a woman walks past, unaware, on the grey sidewalk. Class, wealth and opportunity, of which Harris had ample portions, are unimportant, and the divide between the two is crossed by the gaze between the painter and the painted. The broken shutters, peeling walls and closed doors speak of poverty and neglect, while the colours are joyous and opulent. Harris heard the message that the Ward was sending him. He understood the ability of the soul to triumph. In these works, the light that shines onto the citizens of the Ward hints at this. Harris had begun to question the unfairness of birthright in his poetry written before the war, and his book of poems entitled Contrasts, published in 1922, when read with a visual such as this work in one’s mind's eye, is searing and poignant.
The composition of In the Ward is remarkable for several reasons: Harris’s choice of subject matter, his unorthodox use of colour, and the strong sense of abstract pattern that is developed through these patches of colour as they describe each area within the work. Harris’s attention to this part of the city of Toronto is unique within the work of the Group of Seven and speaks of his social and political conscience, as well as his great skill and daring as a painter. Harris’s life experiences were quite dramatic, and each of them, as he progressed along the path of his career, added a layer to the whole. He is one of Canada’s most complex and fascinating artists.
This work is a sketch for a canvas of the same title, painted in 1920 and now belonging to the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. In the canvas, the foreground figure has been turned around so that his back is towards us, which changes the relationship between subject and viewer. As well, the pole has been smoothed and its lamp removed. Both works are quite remarkable, and attest to Harris’s great skill as a pre-eminent chronicler of the urban landscape.
$175,500 CAD (including Buyer's Premium)
All prices are in Canadian Dollars.
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