ALC BCSFA CGP FCA G7 OSA RPS TPG
1885 - 1970
Algoma Sketch II
oil on board
signed and on verso signed, titled and dated circa 1919 on the gallery labels
10 1/2 x 13 3/4 in, 26.7 x 34.9 cm
Available for post auction sale. CAD
Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave
Roberts Gallery, Toronto
Canadian Fine Arts, Toronto
Galerie Walter Klinkhoff Inc., Montreal
Private Collection, Toronto
Lawren Harris’s Algoma sketches are foundational pillars in the history of Canadian art. Not only do they mark important artistic developments of one of the country’s most celebrated artists, but they also carry the legacy of the genesis of the Group of Seven and the collective reimagining of the country by artists that shared “a like vision.”
Harris’s first visit to the region, a wild and dramatic mix of forests, hills, lakes and rivers to the east of Lake Superior, was in the spring of 1918, accompanied by art patron Dr. James MacCallum. Being excited and inspired by Algoma’s potential, he quickly arranged for a subsequent trip that fall, including fellow artists J.E.H. MacDonald and Frank Johnston. In later trips they were also joined by A.Y. Jackson and Arthur Lismer. The works produced here were the catalyst for the formation of the Group and its first exhibition, in 1920, and provided abundant material for the nascent art movement. Harris and his fellow artists depended on the Algoma Central Railway to navigate the varied and dramatic country. In their early visits they stayed in a customized boxcar on various sidings, and between 1920 and 1922, in cabins on Mongoose and Sand Lakes.
Harris wrote: “One can almost guarantee that two months in our North country of direct experience in creative living art will bring about a very marked change in the attitude of any creative individual. It will bring him an inner release and freedom to adventure on his own that is well-nigh impossible amid the insistences and superficialities of Europe.” It was in the pursuit of such an exploratory artistic journey that Harris funded and coordinated the trips to Algoma. The immersion into the landscape being depicted followed directly from the example of Tom Thomson, whose extended residencies in Algonquin Park had resulted in rapid and significant artistic development in a very short time before his untimely death in 1917. Thomson’s influence is evident in many Algoma works, including this one, which strongly echoes an economy of brush-strokes and an ability to suggest the essential spirit of the landscape with simplified forms and subtle, but accurate, colour choices.
Algoma Sketch II is a moody and intimate work, depicting a quiet corner of a calm lake. Silhouetted spruces, charming in their irregularity, line the shore, accompanied by a single birch and backed by unsettled cloud forms. The nuanced shades of green and brown, the hint of the shoreline rocks, glimpsed in the shallow water through the use of transparency—all painted with directness and immediacy—suggest that Harris had developed a knowledge of the subject and a confidence in its depiction. As with Thomson, familiarity facilitated opportunities to create distilled gems of the northland, moments captured quickly in inspired creative acts. While there are no specific landmarks to locate the subject, this scene is a recognizable one, likely painted at Sand Lake, at a time when Harris had been visiting Algoma for several years and had found a level of comfort and freedom he aspired to through entanglement with his subject.
Harris once wrote, “Our aim is to paint the Canadian scene in its own terms. This land is different in its air, moods, and spirit from Europe and the Old Country.… It has to be seen, lived with, and painted with complete devotion to its own life and spirit before it yields its secrets.” The success and importance of the works done in Algoma embodies this argument. Further, these works demonstrate the invaluable realization of this aim through their historical contributions to Canadian art—and their continued ability to inspire and reveal truths about the landscapes they reflect.
We thank Alec Blair, Director/Lead Researcher, Lawren S. Harris Inventory Project, for contributing the above essay.
1. Foreword to Group of Seven: Catalogue Exhibition of Paintings, May 7th – May 27th, 1920 (Toronto: Art Museum of Toronto, 1920).
2. Quoted in Bess Harris and R.G.P. Colgrove, eds., Lawren Harris (Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1969), 48.
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