Amy Kenny, The Spec
Thu May 3 2012
Hamilton ice house
Pillowy pine and snow-capped mountains, shining lakes and smooth slabs of the Canadian Shield - these are the images Lawren Harris is known for. The Brantford-born Group of Seven painter is rarely associated with the industry and man-made landscape of the urban environment, but a painting of Hamilton is expected to fetch up to $500,000 during an art auction at Vancouver's Heffel Fine Art Auction House on May 17.
Building the Ice House, Hamilton is a small oil painting (10 5/8 by 12 3/4 inches) of immeasurable significance. Completed in 1912, the panel depicts the construction of an ice house, likely located on the shore of Lake Ontario, says David Heffel, president of Heffel Gallery.
It's coming from the private collection of a Toronto resident who originally bought the piece when Heffel sold it on behalf of Harris's family members in November 2002.
"It's one of those iconic pieces that transcends the Canadian border and generates admiration beyond our country," Heffel says. Not only has the piece been shown throughout Canada, it's been included in exhibitions in Miami, Atlanta and Brooklyn. Heffel points to the theme of the piece as one of the reasons for its widespread popularity. Unlike the work of some of Harris's Quebec colleagues, who were interested in the physical act of harvesting blocks of ice from lakes (a practice that kept ice boxes cold during summer), Building the Ice House, Hamiltonfocuses on something more modern - the industry behind the custom.
Because of this, Heffel says, the piece feels contemporary even though it was created 100 years ago. And though it's not among the paintings immediately recognizable to most Canadians, it's an important early work.
Charles Hill, curator of Canadian art at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, agrees. "It's a remarkably fresh sketch," he says. According to Hill, the brick-like, built-up application of paint on the panel, the vivid colours, strong horizontal lines, sharp quality of the image and industrial theme (atypical of Harris's subject matter) combine to make it a vital part of his body of work.
"It's just a gorgeous piece . It's early Harris at his best," Hill says. "If you were doing an exhibition of Harris, this is the one you'd want."
The painting, along with works by Emily Carr, the rest of the Group of Seven and many more, will be on display during an open house at Toronto's Heffel Gallery (13 Hazelton Ave.) from Thursday, May 3, to Saturday, May 5.
Ice cutting on Bay February 22, 1895
What: Heffel 2012 Spring Auction Preview in Toronto
Who: Along with 10 of Harris's pieces, 36 paintings from all members of the Group of Seven will be included in the auction. Works from Emily Carr, Jean Paul Lemieux, Christopher Pratt and Alex Colville are also highlights. The auction is expected to achieve between $9 million and $12 million.