LOT 112

1885 - 1970

Coldwell - North Shore, Lake Superior
oil on board
signed and on verso titled, dated September 1922 and inscribed "5465"
10 1/2 x 13 3/4 in 26.7 x 34.9 cm

Estimate: $100,000 - $150,000

Preview at: Heffel Vancouver

Collection of Chris Haney, Toronto, circa 1985
By descent to the present Private Collection, California

A century ago, in the fall of 1921, Lawren Harris and A.Y. Jackson took the Algoma Central Railway up to its intersection with the Canadian Pacific tracks at Franz and continued west to Rossport, visiting the north shore of Lake Superior for the first time, staying for just a few days. This initial foray resulted in a definitive shift in focus for Harris, who turned his attention from the verdant Algoma region on the east side of the lake and embraced instead the potential for expansive space accessible from the austere, burned-over headlands in this region.

Looking back in 1948, Harris recalled, “We found new and inspiring subjects, both in the hills along the shores of the great lake and inland in the high country with its rugged scenery, rocky streams and innumerable lakes.”[1] This area became his most frequent sketching ground in the 1920s. The repeated visits gave him the opportunity to adapt his artistic approach previously specialized to the complexity and intimacy of the Algoma forests and Toronto streets, and realize the grandeur of this open inland sea. Coldwell - North Shore, Lake Superior is a wonderful exemplar of the potential that this place held for Harris, even early on in his explorations there.

The specific date on the verso of this work is quite a rare notation for the artist, and definitively places the work on one of Harris’s earliest visits to the lake with fellow Group of Seven member Jackson. This first dedicated trip, specifically to the North Shore, has often been reported to have begun in October 1922, but the inscription on this work, written in Harris’s own hand, confirms that the artists arrived earlier and positions this work among the first of that season. Alongside Jackson, Harris began to explore the exciting prospects of containing the long, magnificent vistas within the bounds of their small wooden boards. Nearly two years before he would first go to the Rocky Mountains, and eight years before he would find the open water and ice of the Arctic, Coldwell - North Shore, Lake Superior is a tender prelude to the symphonies of light and distance he would become engrossed with.

While Harris would explore a range of themes on this trip and subsequent ones, this early work demonstrates the magnetic draw of the vast openness of the North Shore that Algoma lacked, even from its highest hilltops. Here, looking south over the lake, there is nothing on the horizon but inviting warm pale light, pulling the viewer through the rugged, invigorating foreground, over the cool, placid water and into this ethereal, infinite distance. The exhilarating and bold crimson in the bottom third of the panel ignites the work with an energy that is balanced by the subtle variations in grey, purple and teal in the distant islands. This balance of contrasts was key to Harris, who wrote that “all creative activity is the interplay of opposites, and it is the union of those in a work of art that gives it vitality and meaning.”[2]

In his landscape paintings, Harris was focused on distilling the underlying truth of the universal through the language of the familiar, ultimately seeking to expand the consciousness of those who experienced his art. In his words, “Art is a realm of life between our mundane world and the world of the spirit, between the infinite diversity of manifested life and the unity or harmony of spirit, or between the temporal world and the realm of enduring and incorruptible ideation.”[3] It is in works such as this that we can appreciate how the landscapes of Lake Superior were such an effective and exciting subject in Harris’s pursuit of this transcendence.

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): 34.

2. Lawren Harris, quoted in Bess Harris and R.G.P. Colgrove, eds., Lawren Harris (Toronto: Macmillan, 1969), 120.

3. Ibid., 107.

Estimate: $100,000 - $150,000

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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