LOT 125

1885 - 1970

Tamarac, Spruce and Pine, Algoma
oil on board, circa 1918 - 1919
on verso signed, titled twice and inscribed with the artist's symbol and "25 Severn St. / "Not For Sale" (crossed out) / "Toronto"
10 3/8 x 13 1/8 in, 26.4 x 33.3 cm

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

Sold for: $169,250

Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave

Private Collection, British Columbia
Fine Canadian Art, Heffel Fine Art Auction House, November 28, 2003, lot 65
The Art Emporium, Vancouver
Private Collection, California

Along with his companions in the Group of Seven, Lawren Harris was driven to create a Canadian art that responded to, and drew inspiration from, the unique and diverse northern landscape of the nation. After his return to Canada in 1908 from studying art in Europe, Harris was able to connect with like-minded artists, including J.E.H. MacDonald and Tom Thomson, and embark on sketching trips in an attempt to create an “art expression which should embody the moods and character and spirit of the country.”[1] Algonquin Park, Georgian Bay and the Laurentians were the first sketching grounds, and Harris fondly recollected those early days: “We commenced our great adventure. We lived in a continuous blaze of enthusiasm…Above all we loved this country and loved exploring and painting it.”[2]

After the disruption of the First World War, this enthusiasm and exploration began again with renewed vigour in the form of trips to Algoma, along the east side of Lake Superior, which is where the striking and confident Tamarac, Spruce and Pine, Algoma was painted. In both 1918 and 1919, Harris arranged for transportation and accommodation along the Algoma Central Railway line, departing from Sault Ste. Marie. Harris’s excitement about this venture is evidenced by his letters to MacDonald in the summer of 1918. Writing from his summer cottage on Lake Simcoe, he describes their plan: “We enter a Caboose which will be our home while in the North. Said caboose is hitched onto some train or other hauled to a siding in the Agawa Canyon 120 miles north of the Soo and left there for two or three days while we proceed to get a strangle hold on the surroundings.”[3] These trips, which also included Frank Johnston, A.Y. Jackson and art patron Dr. James MacCallum, enabled the artists to create a great variety and abundance of novel and dynamic sketches, and resulted ultimately in the 1920 creation, and inaugural exhibition, of the Group of Seven.

While in Algoma, the artists explored the forests, rivers and lakes by hiking, canoeing or traveling up and down the tracks in a small handcar. Ahead of the trip, Harris explained to MacDonald how they would proceed, moving south from their starting point: “From mile 120 we are picked up by a down-going train and left on another siding for a few days and again picked up and left on still another siding and so on until we land [in] the Soo with a mass of sketches and C.P.R. ourselves home again.”[4] It is somewhere along this route, likely sketched from the side of the railway line as they got closer to Sault Ste. Marie, that this work was painted, and it joined the growing “mass” of monumental works that would travel back to Toronto and change the course of landscape painting in Canadian art.

There is a pensive air to this fine sketch, a sense of quiet that permeates the scene. The long cloud forms suggest a cool autumn breeze blowing over the far hill and through the tall white pines that anchor the composition. The dying light of day creates a solemnity resonant with works Harris would produce a few years later from the north shore of Lake Superior, and a sense of reflection. One can immediately appreciate the influence of Thomson, who surely would have been included on these trips to Algoma if not for his unexpected and tragic death in 1917, which impacted Harris greatly. The foreground tamaracks, brilliant in their yellow fall foliage, make a striking contrast against the deep greens of the spruces behind, a compositional device used to great effect by Thomson in his Algonquin sketches. Given this context, the work moves beyond a raw and vital depiction of northern Ontario. It typifies the type of emotional resonance that the Group of Seven was able to so successfully foster in their paintings, using the subject of Canadian landscape to elicit strong and persistent human connections to the environment. The fact that sketches such as this one still resonate so clearly over a century later is a testament to their importance and unparalleled legacy.

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

1. Lawren Harris, "The Group of Seven in Canadian History," Report of the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Historical Association 27, no. 1 (1948): 31.

2. Ibid. 32.

3. Undated 1918 letter from Lawren Harris to J.E.H. MacDonald, LSH Estate Archives.

4. Ibid.

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

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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