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LOT 128

Lawren Stewart Harris
1885 - 1970

Waterfall, Algoma
oil on board, circa 1919
signed and on verso inscribed "to Barker Fairley from Lawren Harris" / "Property of Nan Purdie" / "B.7."
10 1/4 x 13 7/8 in 26 x 35.2 cm

Estimate: $90,000 - $120,000

Sold for: $109,250

Preview at:

Collection of Barker Fairley, Toronto
Collection of Nan Purdie
Sold sale of Important Paintings, Drawings, Watercolours, Engravings and Two Bronzes by Canadian Artists, Christie's in Canada, November 15, 1972, lot 62, titled as The Waterfall
Penell Gallery, Toronto
Acquired from the above by the present Private Collection, Vancouver, 1975

J.E.H. MacDonald, “ACR 10557,” The Lamps, Arts and Letters Club, December 1919, pages 37 - 38
Lawren Stewart Harris, The Story of the Group of Seven, 1964, pages 19 - 20

This powerful work originally comes from the collection of Barker Fairley, a contemporary of Lawren Harris and the Group of Seven - a fellow member of the Arts and Letters Club, a professor of German at the University of Toronto and a significant painter in his own right. He was a champion and supporter of the Group, promoting them in the early 1920s in his writing and collecting a significant number of works from these artists. Fairley’s close connection to the Group is evident in his presence in the most celebrated photo of the Group (minus Frank Carmichael), at the Arts and Letters Club in 1920, and the inclusion of his portrait by F.H. Varley in the inaugural Group show that same year.

An inscription in Harris’s hand on the verso of Waterfall, Algoma suggests this work was a personal gift from the artist to Fairley. This close association, and the intimate knowledge Fairley had of the work of the Group, demonstrates the importance of this painting and its significance in the constantly evolving career and vision of Harris. While many of the key works from Fairley’s collection were donated to the University of Toronto Faculty Club, this work entered the collection of Nan Purdie, Fairley’s second wife.

This painting depicts a formidable and dramatic waterfall from the Algoma region of northern Ontario, and it was most likely painted on one of the famed Algoma Central Railway expeditions of 1918 or 1919. The rental of a boxcar in the autumn of these years allowed for the exploration of, as Harris described it, this “veritable paradise for the creative adventurer in paint,” and opportunities for the bold plein air painting of a new realm of “wild richness and clarity of colour.” Along with J.E.H. MacDonald, Frank Johnson and A.Y. Jackson, Harris would venture up and down the tracks of the Algoma Central Railway in a handcar, or along the rivers by canoe to explore and paint the “paradise” they found themselves in. These trips were organized and financed by Harris, and they provided the abundance of material and novel subjects that, in part, catalyzed the creation of the Group and their inaugural 1920 exhibition at the Art Gallery of Toronto.

Though the location is not recorded, the subject of this work bears a strong resemblance to the powerful falls along the Montreal River that MacDonald painted from several different angles, including in his prominent canvases Falls, Montreal River (collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario) and The Wild River (collection of the Faculty Club, University of Toronto). Significantly, the sketch for the latter was also in Fairley’s collection, now donated to the Faculty Club. According to MacDonald, in 1919 the artists spent two days by the “great Falls of the Montreal River, and they had many a good hour on smaller streams,” suggesting ample interest in such a magnetic and animated subject.

For Harris, these trips also provided replenishment following personal hardship. Having lost his brother in the war, and dealing with the death of fellow artist Tom Thomson, Harris said his recovery was greatly aided by the trips to what he described as “paradise,” where you “forget entirely to give your health or state of mind even a passing thought.” The vital energy of a waterfall, especially one as commanding as this, must have been extremely attractive to Harris, embodying the process of refreshment, and reaffirming the wilderness as a place of solace and renewal. Although it does not exhibit the solemnity and stillness of later works, in this painting Harris can be seen grappling with the vigour, chaos and power of the natural world, and the exhilaration and restoration it provided.

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

Estimate: $90,000 - $120,000

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

Although great care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information posted, errors and omissions may occur. All bids are subject to our Terms and Conditions of Business.