LOT 140

1885 - 1970

oil on board, circa 1918
signed and on verso titled on the Laing Galleries label
12 3/8 x 10 1/2 in, 31.4 x 26.7 cm

Estimate: $200,000 - $300,000 CAD

Sold for: $205,250

Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave

Laing Galleries, Toronto
Acquired from the above by a Private Collector, Toronto, September 29, 1967 for $1,500
By descent to the present Private Collection, Toronto

James King, Inward Journey: The Life of Lawren Harris, 2012, page 105

Lawren Harris was discharged from the Canadian Army on May 1, 1918, and later that same month, he was taken to Georgian Bay, Manitoulin Island and the east end of Lake Superior by his friend Dr. James MacCallum. MacCallum thought that the wilderness would be a restorative experience for Harris, and this proved to be true. During this trip they traveled on the Algoma Central Railway, and Harris became excited by the large scale of the Algoma wilderness. He enthusiastically planned a trip for the Algoma area in the fall of that same year, which included MacCallum and fellow Group of Seven members J.E.H. MacDonald and Frank H. Johnston. This was the first of the famous boxcar trips, in which a boxcar was outfitted to be their traveling campsite and studio. It was hauled up the Algoma Central Railway and first dropped off on a railway siding at Canyon, in the vicinity of the Agawa River. After a few days there, the artists were transported south and left at the Hubert siding, near to the Montreal River. Their last stop was Batchewana, and after dropping off the boxcar, they were back in Toronto by October.

In a letter, MacDonald eloquently described the Algoma country:

“I will not attempt to describe this country for you as I haven’t a great flow of language at present. Perhaps that will come as usual when I get back and talk as usual after a trip. But the country is certainly all that Lawren and the Dr. said about it. It is a land after Dante’s heart. The canyon is like a winding way to the lower regions and last night, when the train went through just after dark, with the fireman stoking up, the light of the fire shining on the smoke clouds, it was easy to imagine his Satanic majesty taking a drive through his domain. I had walked a little distance up the canyon and the effect was eerie enough to make me speed up for home. The great perpendicular rocks seem to over hang as though they might fall any minute, and the dark Agawa moving through it all had an uncanny snakiness. On a fine day, such as this, the canyon seems to lead upwards, and has all the attributes of an imagined Paradise.”

This wooded country abounded with scenic canyons, ravines, rivers and streams. Harris’s paintings there, such as this fine sketch done on the spot, are expressive, richly hued and imbued with the freshness of nature. Algoma has an intimate feeling – in this view, surrounded by woods, canyon walls and huge chunks of granite, we feel enclosed in a protected glade. Harris captures the subtle effects of shimmering light on the water, which bubbles and dances down the rocks, then merges into the still pool. It is a quiet and contemplative scene, in which we can imagine the music of the stream as it tumbles over the rocks.

Harris executed many sketches in Algoma and showed 45 of them in the spring of 1919 at the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the Art Gallery of Ontario). In the Algoma countryside, Harris’s work had changed – he applied his paint more thickly and with greater vigour. He turned away from the more decorative aspects of his previous work and became more interested in structure in his paintings, as in this superb sketch, in which he molds rock, stream and woods into a unified and vital whole.

Estimate: $200,000 - $300,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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