LOT 019

1885 - 1970

Mountain Spirit
oil on canvas, circa 1955
signed and on verso signed, titled on the Canadian Group of Painters label and Mountain Experience (crossed out), inscribed "F 126" and "Crate 5, No. 7" on a label and stamped Lawren Harris LSH Holdings Ltd. 122
51 x 34 in, 129.5 x 86.4 cm

Estimate: $100,000 - $150,000 CAD

Sold for: $181,250

Preview at:

Collection of the Artist
LSH Holdings Ltd., Vancouver
Estate of the Artist
The Art Emporium, Vancouver, 1976
Estate of Vivienne Brosnan, Vancouver

Canadian Group of Painters, Exhibition 59, Art Gallery of Toronto, 1959, listed
Bess Harris and R.G.P. Colgrove, editors, Lawren Harris, 1969, a related smaller oil entitled Mountain Spirit, dated as 1945, collection of the University of British Columbia, reproduced page 92 and listed page 144
Dennis Reid, Atma Buddhi Manas: The Later Work of Lawren S. Harris, Art Gallery of Ontario, 1985, page 51, the circa 1946 oil entitled Mountain Experience I reproduced page 3, and the circa 1936 oil entitled Mountain Experience reproduced page 67
Peter Larisey, Light for a Cold Land: Lawren Harris’s Work and Life—An Interpretation, 1993, page 173, a related smaller oil entitled Mountain Spirit, dated as 1950, collection of the University of British Columbia, reproduced page 174

Art Gallery of Toronto, Canadian Group of Painters, Exhibition 59, November - December 1959, catalogue #18

Lawren Harris had a powerful and long-lasting relationship with mountains in his life and in his art. This relationship began with his trips to the Rocky Mountains in the 1920s, and his paintings of them were majestic, depicted pared down to their essential forms and radiant with a spiritual light. By hiking and camping in the mountains, he absorbed their essence, and his belief in theosophy was the spiritual filter for the experiences he had in the Rockies and influenced how he depicted their forms.

In the 1930s, Harris’s life underwent considerable change – his marriage broke up, and the controversy about this and his subsequent relationship with Bess Housser provoked his departure from Toronto. The couple married and moved to the United States in 1934, first settling in New Hampshire in the White Mountains. There, Harris’s work began to morph – at first he began painting the White Mountains with a realistic approach, but he soon transformed them through abstraction. An example is the strongly structured abstract entitled Abstract Experience, circa 1936, in which geometric shapes combine with fluid calligraphic lines, with a triangular abstracted mountain in the background. In 1938, Harris moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he became one of the founders of the Transcendental Painting Group; there he continued with his abstract direction.

In 1940, the Harrises were forced to return to Canada due to the war, when they were unable to transfer their funds to the United States. They settled in Vancouver, where Harris resumed his relationship with the Rockies. He and Bess hiked there in the summers from about 1941 to 1950, and once again, Harris was able to experience the spiritual communion he had felt there in the 1920s. When Lawren and Bess stayed at Mount Temple Chalet near Lake Louise in 1945, Bess wrote: “There was beauty superlatively. The land below vanished – lost in a glorious up-soaring movement of white – of sun-lit cloud, – now and again a peak all snow was dimly seen, one lost the common sense of earth and sky. – It was a new space – all movement and light – I could only think I was looking at light.” [*Indesign note – italicize looking at light] Harris’s drawings resulted in studio canvases such as Mountain Experience I, circa 1946, with its abstracted forms of jagged lightning bolts and cloud forms as well as part of a peak.

In Peter Larisey’s book Light for a Cold Land: Lawren Harris’s Work and Life – An Interpretation, he discusses a related oil, a precursor to ours entitled Mountain Spirit, in which “the lines derived from Harris’s automatic drawings cling to, and seem to hover in the air over, a small cluster of mountain peaks…It echoes the enormous importance the mountains had in Harris’s spiritual and artistic life.” He then refers to another painting, likely ours: “A second, much larger version of this painting has the same title, but Harris has removed the mountains at the bottom. The two pictures give us another clue to the use Harris was making of these lines to express emotional and spiritual feelings for the mountains or for spiritual truths experienced in some other setting.” Without the dark lines indicating mountains at the bottom of the smaller precursor work, the forms in our Mountain Spirit are freed to expand into a light-filled transcendental space.

Over a period of 16 years, Harris’s treatment of his mountain subjects had transformed. His paintings had moved from realism to structural abstraction with recognizable shapes to open, completely abstract representations of an internal experience of mountains. His paintings suggested emotions and ideas, and became essences of the emanations of mountains. Mountain Spirit is a transcendent, uplifting expression of Harris’s ideation of his subject, a synthesis of many mountain experiences that takes us beyond the realm of realism and the physical world.

Estimate: $100,000 - $150,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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