Lot # 118
Canadian, Impressionist & Modern Art Live auction

Lawren Stewart Harris
ALC BCSFA CGP FCA G7 OSA RPS TPG 1885 - 1970 Canadian

Mountain Sketch XC
oil on board circa 1926 ~ 1929
signed and on verso signed and titled
12 x 15 in  30.5 x 38.1cm

Provenance:
A gift from the Artist to Ira Dilworth
By descent through the family to the present Private Collection, Ontario

Literature:
Doris Mills, L.S. Harris Inventory, 1936, Group 7, Rocky Mountain Sketches, listed and a drawing of this work illustrated by Hans Jensen, catalogue #90, location noted as the Studio Building
Bess Harris and R.G.P. Colgrove, editors, Lawren Harris, 1969, pages 76 and 91

Exhibited:
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canadian Collection (Room A109), December 18, 2006 - September 25, 2008

On verso inscribed: "Not for Sale" / "To Ira with all best wishes from Bess and Lawren" / "25 Severn St., Toronto" / "L.P." and with the Doris Mills Inventory #7/90

This striking sketch, which the artist gave to his friend Ira Dilworth, his colleague in the Emily Carr Trust, is an important reminder of what the Rockies meant to Lawren Harris. For him, the mountains were a place of deep spirituality and wonder, a part of the world where humanity could reach for a higher self. The title of the work is revealing of Harris’s intentions. He is not interested in making a portrait of a specific mountain – hence the generic title. To know that this is a specific mountain would be to tie down both the image and you as the viewer to something too quotidian. As Harris wrote: “An artist…would in one painting endeavour to achieve a combination of moods, rhythms, character and spirit that would be an expressive synthesis of many mountain experiences. The result, if successful, would be an extension of experience beyond the range of realistic painting.” So, for Harris, the upward striving of the peak, the cerebral coolness of the colours and the remoteness of this unidentified summit all provide the viewer with a means to make a spiritual rather than a physical journey.

Harris made his first trip to the Rockies with A.Y. Jackson, in the summer of 1924. He returned in 1926, in 1927, and made a final painting trip in 1929, although he continued to visit the Rockies after his return from the United States in 1940. It was on one of these trips, during World War II, that he was joined by his friend Dilworth (as seen in the accompanying image). This work was, however, done many years before Harris met Dilworth. Dilworth, who served as Emily Carr’s literary editor and executor, would have been aware of Harris’s profound influence on the life of the British Columbia painter and, as noted above, he was a fellow trustee in dealing with Carr’s estate after her death in 1945. In short, he was a valued and trusted friend of Harris’s, and therefore the significance of the provenance of this work cannot be overstated. The inscription on the verso, in Harris’s hand, reads, “To Ira with all best wishes from Bess [Harris] and Lawren.” This was a highly personal gift from Harris to an individual whom he knew would appreciate the spirituality of this image – what Harris called the “uplifted feeling within us.”

The work is austere but astonishingly beautiful. Grounded in, but not tied to, nature, it contains the experience Harris had in the Rockies – an experience that provided him, and us as viewers, with a portal into a higher spiritual realm. The entire structure of the composition is designed to take your eye and mind upward to the peak of the mountain, silhouetted against the deep blue of the heavens. The placement of the peak to the right of centre gives the whole composition dynamism, and the fact that the peak rises so serenely above the glacier and distant mountains is not happenstance. The upper reaches of the composition are only sky and the peak – a world divorced from the humdrum events of daily life and devoted to the spirit. It is a world that is timeless and pure, and within Canadian painting, it is a world that is uniquely Harris’s.

We thank Ian M. Thom, senior curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery from 1988 to 2018, and author of Lawren Stewart Harris: A Painter’s Progress, the catalogue for the Americas Society exhibition in 2000, for contributing the above essay.

This painting was exhibited at the National Gallery of Canada, where it was installed next to one of Harris’s most well-known paintings, North Shore, Lake Superior.

Estimate: $700,000 ~ $900,000 CAD  
Sold for: $1,381,250 CAD (including Buyer's Premium)

All prices are in Canadian Dollars.

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