LOT 117

1885 - 1970

North East Corner of Lake Superior (Lake Superior Sketch XXXVIII)
oil on board, circa 1926 - 1927
on verso signed, titled North East Corner of Lake Superior on the board and Lake Superior Sketch XXXVIII on a label and inscribed with the Doris Mills inventory #4/38
12 x 15 in, 30.5 x 38.1 cm

Estimate: $250,000 - $350,000 CAD

Sold for: $481,250

Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave

Acquired directly from the Artist, circa 1950
By descent to the present Private Collection, British Columbia

Doris Mills, L.S. Harris Inventory, 1936, Lake Superior Sketches, Group 4, catalogue #38, listed, titled as Lake Superior Sketch, location noted as the Studio Building, a drawing of this work illustrated by Hans Jensen page 8

For Lawren Harris, the north shore of Lake Superior was a place for experimentation and artistic discovery. His regular autumn visits of the 1920s allowed for the development and honing of his unique visual vocabulary, which he was then effectively able to utilize in his efforts to communicate the spirit of this awe-inspiring environment, perhaps more so than anywhere else he painted. As fellow Group of Seven member A.Y. Jackson described, “It was this country that gave Harris the motives for many of his best known canvases. There was a feeling of space, dramatic lighting, the stark forms of rocky hills and dead trees, and beyond, Lake Superior, shining like burnished silver. However bold the artist’s conception of it was, it seemed inadequate."[1]

For Harris, the artistic mission was to capture the underlying truth of a place, as opposed to a realistic depiction. He claimed, “Real art never seeks factual truth. It seeks to express the character and spirit of a scene in its own plastic language: not the branch of a tree, but the urge of its growth. Yet, art is not caprice; art is essentially organization and order.”[2] In pursuit of this goal, Harris could be systematic in his exploration, often choosing certain viewpoints or subjects to revisit repeatedly in an effort to find the most effective mode of organization for what he sought to express.

North East Corner of Lake Superior, (Lake Superior Sketch XXXVIII) depicts one such viewpoint, looking east from a hill on the Coldwell Peninsula towards Peninsula Harbour and the location of the present-day town of Marathon, with Detention Island in the right foreground. The paintings Harris was able to produce from this perspective are primarily focused on the exciting, ethereal effects of light and how it plays off the varied, charismatic cloud forms and the reflective expanse of water. As Harris later recalled, “There were skies over the great Lake Superior which, in their singing expansiveness and sublimity, existed nowhere else in Canada.”[3] The artist’s fascination with these skies, at different times of day and in a variety of moods, is documented in this series of works, including this glowing oil sketch. In the triumphant Lake Superior (Thomson Collection, Art Gallery of Ontario), the view is depicted with dramatic yellow shafts of light descending onto the lake below from twisted forms of dynamic clouds. A similar situation is depicted in Lake Superior Sketch LI (collection of the Art Gallery of Windsor), where sunbeams dramatically shine spotlight patches on the lake. In the monumental Morning, Lake Superior (sketch sold by Heffel in November 2018, lot 136; canvas in the collection of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts), there is a tranquil calm as the sun shines brightly on the water and otherworldly clouds hover in the stillness of the early day.

Conversely, in this work, North East Corner of Lake Superior, (Lake Superior Sketch XXXVIII), there is an inherent tension: while the clouds bask in glorious light, their robust heavenly forms energized from above, beneath there is an ominous darkness cast by the shadows of these same dense structures. A bleached dead tree stands as a skeletal witness to the sheets of illumination, acting as solemn company for the audience, together observing from a distance. The electrifying blue that dominates the picture is a vibrant exaggeration of the artist’s perception, amplifying the intensity of the scene and bringing it alive with excitement.

This dramatic work is Harris at his poetic best, distilling the experience of such a humbling spectacle into tangible visual form. His faith in the arts to communicate such ideas is clear in his quote from 1933: “For the arts epitomize, intensify and clarify the experience of beauty for us, as nothing else can.”[4] In this work, Harris certainly succeeds in demonstrating this capacity, as he does in many of his best paintings.

We thank Alec Blair, Director/Lead Researcher, Lawren S. Harris Inventory Project, for contributing the above essay.

1. A.Y. Jackson, “Lawren Harris: A Biographical Sketch,” in Lawren Harris: Paintings, 1910 - 1948, ed. Sydney Key (Toronto: Art Gallery of Toronto, 1948), exhibition catalogue, 11.

2. Lawren Harris, quoted in Bess Harris and R.G.P. Colgrove, eds., Lawren Harris (Toronto: Macmillan, 1969), 14.

3. Lawren Harris, “The Group of Seven in Canadian History,” Report of the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Historical Association 27, no. 1 (1948): 34.

4. Lawren Harris, “Theosophy and Art,” Canadian Theosophist 14, no. 5 (15 July 1933): 129.

Estimate: $250,000 - $350,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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