LOT 121

1885 - 1970

From Sentinel Pass Above Moraine Lake, Rocky Mts.
oil on board, circa 1929 - 1930
on verso signed, initialed L by Lawren Harris Jr., titled and inscribed "owned by Bess Harris since 1941" / "BHC-B2" / "M" (circled) / "2" and variously and with the Doris Mills inventory #7/74
12 x 15 in, 30.5 x 38.1 cm

Estimate: $400,000 - $600,000 CAD

Sold for: $691,250

Preview at:

Collection of the Artist
Bess Harris Collection
Estate of the Artist
Lawren P. and Anne Harris
By descent within the Artist's family to the present Private Collection, Calgary

Doris Mills, L.S. Harris Inventory, 1936, Rocky Mountain Sketches, Group 7, catalogue #74, location noted as the Studio Building, and a drawing of the painting illustrated by Hans Jensen
Catharine Mastin, The Group of Seven in Western Canada, Glenbow Museum, 2002, listed page 199

Elsie Perrin Memorial Art Museum, London, Ontario
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Lawren Harris Sketches, May 12 , 1954 – April 24, 1955 (touring), titled as From Sentinel Pass, Rocky Mountains, catalogue #16
Owens Art Gallery, Mount Allison University, Sackville, Work from the Lawren & Anne Harris Collection, April 26 – May 16, 1967, titled as Sentinel Pass, Moraine Lake
Glenbow Museum, Calgary, The Group of Seven in Western Canada, July 13 - October 14, 2002, traveling in 2002 - 2004 to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Halifax; Winnipeg Art Gallery; Art Gallery of Greater Victoria; and National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, catalogue #43

Lawren Harris’s inimitable legacy as a visionary of Canadian landscape painting is synonymous with his iconic depictions of mountains, unmistakable in their clarity of conception. By the late 1920s, years spent sketching in the Rocky Mountains and at Lake Superior had brought Harris’s art to a new plane, in which his brilliant ability to refine and distill his subjects found him paring down the landscape to its most essential elements. In contrast to his paintings of autumnal Algoma and urban Toronto from the beginning of the decade, which featured vibrant, diverse colours, pieces from the late 1920s emphasize restraint, and find immense power in their crystallized tension and narrow chromatic harmony. From Sentinel Pass Above Moraine Lake, Rocky Mts. is the epitome of such works—a poetic rumination on the solemnity of the mountains, and unmistakably Harris at his most confident and accomplished.

Appropriate parallels in mood can be drawn from this painting to the masterful large canvases Isolation Peak (Hart House Collection) and Mt. Lefroy (McMichael Canadian Art Collection), which were created during the same period. All of these works suggest an atmosphere of pensiveness, and perhaps foreboding, coinciding with the end of the post-war Roaring Twenties and the winding down of the enthusiasm and excitement it had brought. Austere landscapes and their awesome primal power had become the artistic preoccupation of Harris, reflecting his growing determination in transcending the immediate and proximate to convey the universal and eternal, a path that would soon lead to his transition to pure abstraction.

As with most of Harris’s later landscape works, this oil on board was preceded by a pencil sketch done on site (Rocky Mountain Drawing 9-61, sold by Heffel in fall 2015). As indicated on verso of this painting, the subject is the view from Sentinel Pass, overlooking one of the Minnestimma Lakes in the Larch Valley, found above and to the west of the famed Moraine Lake in Banff National Park. Working on this oil painting after the pencil drawing, either still on site or back in his studio, gave Harris the chance to intensify the scene and bring the depiction to a more perfect representation of his vision: an articulation of his genuine reverence for nature’s grandeur, presented as a complete and crystalline depiction of the alpine in its own world of pure, unadulterated light.

Three mountains (Mount Babel, Mount Fay and Mount Bowlen) surround the brilliant white of Fay Glacier, spotlighted by an overhead, otherworldly glow. The subtleties of the colouration engage and excite, with variation in the cool blues and complexity in the greys clearly and effectively depicting the recognizable architecture of the landscape. Fascinating comparisons can be made to the work of Arthur Lismer (who also painted this same location in two of his four known mountain canvases), highlighting the inspiring individuality of these two artists, despite their close affiliation in the Group of Seven

This work is one of 100 or so sketches that a very discerning Bess Harris acquired from her husband over the course of their marriage. Since her and Harris’s passing, this remarkable piece has remained in the Harris family and has never before been reproduced in print, making its offering now especially exciting. Notations on verso reveal some of its interesting history. Doris Mills’s labeling places the work in the Studio Building in 1936, after Harris left for the USA, and writing on the frame in the artist’s own hand indicates that the work was exhibited in retrospective shows later in his career. A large blue L denotes it was part of the estate acquired by Lawren Harris Jr., who also exhibited it with others from his collection in 1967.

From Sentinel Pass Above Moraine Lake, Rocky Mts., as with many of Harris’s best works, commands and arrests the viewer’s attention, demanding our own reflection on the drama the artist has staged for us. And as an audience, we may easily find our own response close to that of Emily Carr, who wrote in her journal after seeing the works of Harris and the Group of Seven for the first time in 1927: “Oh, God, what have I seen? Where have I been? Something has spoken to the very soul of me, wonderful, mighty, not of this world.”[1] The indescribable awe of nature that Harris conveys so effectively in works such as this provokes profound and deep connections that further bolster the significance of his legacy.

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

1. Emily Carr, Hundreds and Thousands: The Journals of Emily Carr (Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1966), 6.


Estimate: $400,000 - $600,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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