Lawren Stewart Harris
ALC BCSFA CGP FCA G7 OSA RPS TPG
1885 - 1970
oil on board, circa 1937
on verso stamped Lawren Harris, LSH Holdings Ltd. 26
26 x 20 in 66 x 50.8 cm
Estimate: $100,000 - $150,000
Sold for: $157,250
By descent within the family of the Artist
Bess Harris and R.G.P. Colgrove, editors, Lawren Harris, 1969, pages 87 and 91
Andrew Hunter and Ian M. Thom, Lawren Stewart Harris: A Painter's Progress, The Americas Society, 2000, reproduced page 48
Roald Nasgaard and Gwendolyn Owens, Higher States: Lawren Harris and His American Contemporaries, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, 2017, reproduced pages 152 and 179
The Americas Society, New York, Lawren Stewart Harris: A Painter's Progress, September 5 - November 5, 2000
Vancouver Art Gallery, Lawren Harris: Canadian Visionary, March 1 - May 4, 2014
McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg, Higher States: Lawren Harris and His American Contemporaries, February 4 - September 4, 2017, traveling in 2017 - 2018 to the Glenbow Museum, Calgary
LSH #26 is an evocative and exciting abstract work that represents an important moment in the career of Lawren Harris, as it captures direct links between the monumental landscape works of the 1920s and the transcendental abstract works in the decades that followed. In 1934, several years after his last landscape painting expedition (to the Arctic in 1930), Harris had reached a crossroads in both his personal and creative life. After leaving Toronto for New Hampshire, he began a new phase of experimental creative expression and embraced the expansive possibilities of non-objective painting. The energetic forms of this work show Harris relishing his new-found freedom to explore the possibilities of a world untethered from the constraints of specific realities.
For Harris, the transition from landscape painting to abstraction was an inevitable continuation of the path that he had been on his entire career, and arguably the only way open to him after reaching a pinnacle in his arctic work. Upon arriving in New Hampshire, Harris experimented with occasional sketches of the White Mountains, but soon began to push the boundaries of the literal, shifting elements of the natural world into novel arrangements. An important transitional canvas, Winter Comes from the Arctic to the Temperate Zone (circa 1935), set a snow-covered tree in front of a simplified iceberg floating on a dark sea, with the spectre of frigid ice-blue mountains looming in the background.
In LSH #26 Harris moved a step further; not quite ready to leave the mountains behind, he instead opted to maintain the same forms, but transformed their context into one set free from the tangible world. The mountains themselves are familiar, but unplaceable. The stacking of nested peaks, not yet fully geometrically stylized, recalls the topography of the White Mountains and iconic Rocky Mountain works, including the monumental Mountain Forms. The lopsided peak itself has the same outline as his masterful Mount Lefroy. The disconnection from specificity highlights the development of Harris’s concentration – he was still intent on communicating the idea of mountains, but was stepping beyond the confines of the tangible. It follows his own perceived path of artistic evolution, where, as Harris wrote, “[the artist] seeks to become one with ever purer means of expression. Thus [the artist] is led to the abstract, universal qualities that give a work a suggestion of eternal meaning, make of it a universal experience.”
Throughout his career, Harris’s artistic method was one of iteration. For landscapes, he developed large canvases from pencil and oil sketches done in the field; for abstracts, this process became exaggerated. Without the foundational constraints of objective reality, works evolved significantly, with attempts to represent, in his words, the “ideas insistently forming which could not be expressed in representational terms.” The same lines and shapes are commonly found through many pieces, and most major works have a discernible path that can be followed across multiple sizes, palettes and styles. For LSH #26, a connection can be drawn to a prominent canvas, Abstraction (LSH 107) from 1939, in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada. Through their similar core ideas, although much modified through several permutations of oil and pencil studies, Abstraction (LSH 107) is a descendant of LSH #26, demonstrating how Harris worked consistently to reinterpret natural inspiration and paint the indescribable truth he perpetually sought to convey. Further to this point, on the verso of Abstraction is a drawing of some of the main forms that would eventually culminate in the work From the Harbour to the Open Sea (circa 1952).
The suggestion of mountains, revered by Harris for their strength, energy, ethereality and, at times, ominous nature, is evident in our striking work, and its portrayal of the “eternal” characteristics of the mountain experience makes it not only a strong example of a historically important Harris, but also an achievement of his core artistic motivation to create a universal expression of underlying truth.
We thank Alec Blair, Director / Lead Researcher, Lawren S. Harris Inventory Project, for contributing the above essay.
On verso of this work is an unfinished graphite drawing.
Estimate: $100,000 - $150,000
All prices are in Canadian Dollars
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