LOT 121

1885 - 1970

North of Lake Superior
oil on board, circa 1923
on verso inscribed "North of Lake Superior" / "Lawren Harris" / "ST#B 87"
12 x 15 in, 30.5 x 38.1 cm

Estimate: $150,000 - $250,000 CAD

Sold for: $169,250

Preview at:

Private Collection, Ontario
Sold sale of Fine Canadian Art, Heffel Fine Art Auction House, November 23, 2007, lot 92
Private Collection, Toronto

Jeremy Adamson, Lawren S. Harris: Urban Scenes and Wilderness Landscapes, 1906 – 1930, Art Gallery of Ontario, 1978, pages 123, 124 and 132

In 1921 Lawren Harris, in the company of A.Y. Jackson, continued on from their painterly explorations of Algoma to the north shore of Lake Superior. They boarded a Canadian Pacific Railway freight and viewed the North Shore panorama unfold before them. Rossport was their final destination, for only a few days before they returned to Toronto. But the impact was lasting for Harris - this was a primordial landscape of barren shoreline with smooth rocky islands, set against the the expanse of the world’s largest freshwater lake. Forest fires had stripped the area of growth, making the scene austere. Harris could not forget it. Here was a landscape, spare, stark and open, that would come to embody his ideals for a period of eight years.

This landscape, scraped clean to essential forms by successive ice ages, was in direct contrast to Algoma, which had occupied the Group of Seven from 1918 to 1921—a lush land full of intimate views of canyons, creeks and waterfalls. Lake Superior, in contrast, was timeless, brooding and mystical. As Jackson wrote, “The Shore is absolutely primeval: the heavy, black rocks, like solid darkness…It is really like the first craggy breaking of dawn on the world, a sense of primeval darkness just behind, before, the Creation…” Harris painted at least two studies on that introductory trip.

In March of 1923, after a period of being a member-at-large, Harris joined the International Theosophical Society’s Toronto Lodge. Other artists in the Group of Seven were conversant with its teachings, but Harris was truly immersed in it. Theosophy, an anti-materialist philosophy, believed that “only spirit was present in the universe and they interpreted this spiritual 'matter’ as the occult life-essence which was manifested in light.” At this time, no other Canadian artist was as committed as Harris to this mystical vision through his art.

North of Lake Superior is a powerful work from circa 1923 that embodies Harris’s theosophical concerns. It depicts a dramatic scene of dark landforms looking out into a horizon full of light. In the foreground is a narrow ledge, Harris’s viewing platform. These landforms, the exposed ancient rock of the Canadian Shield, are highlighted with blue and dark maroon, and they are, as Jackson said, a “primeval darkness.” They appear to hover, due to the water reflecting the light from a distance, and their forms seem echoed in the clouds. Everything is still and silent, and seems to stretch to infinity at the horizon, where exists a realm of bright, white light. In abstracted landscapes such as this, Harris was moving beyond the physical world to represent the realm of the spiritual that theosophy had revealed to him. For Harris, light symbolized spirit, and that spirit illuminates the darkness of North of Lake Superior. Vast and mysterious, Lake Superior is a timeless place, and Harris has captured it perfectly.

Estimate: $150,000 - $250,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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