LOT 113

1885 - 1970

Near Coldwell, North Shore, Lake Superior
oil on board, circa 1922
signed and on verso signed, titled and inscribed "25 Severn St. Toronto" / "$60.00" / "#6700" / "6079"
10 1/2 x 13 3/4 in 26.7 x 34.9 cm

Estimate: $80,000 - $120,000

Preview at: Heffel Vancouver

The Fine Art Galleries, T. Eaton Co. Ltd., Toronto
Collection of Jack B. Fraser, brother-in-law of the Artist
Collection of Chris Haney, Toronto, circa 1985
By descent to the present Private Collection, California

Lawren Harris’s Near Coldwell, North Shore, Lake Superior is a serene and measured work, one that draws the viewer into its world and to the edge of a rocky outcrop, peering down over rounded contours and through atmospheric light onto a classic scene of the Canadian North. It is a prime example of the artist’s persistent search for ways to represent the soul-stirring reaction he felt to the landscape, and to make tangible what was, for him, a communion with higher truths.

Harris described such a pursuit, writing, “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.”[1] This oil on board sketch, like many of his smaller works, captures one of the precious and rarified moments where Harris was out in his element, painting in the landscape and translating directly his connection to the environment.

Sketching trips organized by Harris brought him, along with some of his fellow Group of Seven members, to the north shore of Lake Superior seven times in the 1920s, covering much of the shore between Heron Bay and Rossport. On at least four of these trips, Harris painted in the Coldwell area, located just east of what is now Neys Provincial Park. The size of this work, 10 ½ x 13 ¾ inches, indicates that it was done on one of the earlier trips, as in 1925 Harris switched to using 12 x 15 inch panels for his oil on board sketches. The range and diversity of potential subjects drew artists to this area, from the remains of burnt-over forest and charred pine trees to awe-inducing clouds and skies over the lake, and the interplay of autumnal colours across the varied and dramatic topography. A.Y. Jackson, Harris’s most frequent sketching companion in the area, described it evocatively: “There was a feeling of space, dramatic lighting, the stark forms of rocky hills and dead trees, and beyond, Lake Superior, shining like burnished silver. However bold the artist’s conception of it was, it seemed inadequate.”[2]

Over the course of the 1920s, Harris painted variations on this specific view looking across the bay towards Coldwell Peninsula at least ten different times, each panel with its own character and ambience. In this depiction, there is a sense of serenity in the harbour, the calmness evident in the cool reflection in the water, clearly suggesting a certain comfort that the area naturally provided, away from the exposure of the great inland sea. In the distance on the left, the soft lilac colour of Detention Island encloses the composition, but also provides a path for the eye to follow out into the wider expansiveness.

Harris was a prolific writer, who often shared his thoughts on modern art and the role of art in shaping the country, but it is in his personal letters that we find the most insight into his artistic philosophy. After returning from a trip to Europe in June 1930, he wrote to fellow artist Emily Carr of his reaffirmed connection to the landscape, and its role in providing a pathway to higher truths. He stated: “We should saturate ourselves in our own place, the trees, skies, earth and rock and let our art grow out of these. If it becomes abstract, wholly or in part or not at all is not the paramount thing. It’s the life that goes into the thing that counts.”[3] This oil finds Harris doing exactly that, resulting in a moving and impactful representation of the tranquility and power found in such landscapes.

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

1. Lawren Harris, quoted in Bess Harris and R.G.P. Colgrove, eds., Lawren Harris (Toronto: Macmillan, 1969), 107.

2. A.Y. Jackson, “Lawren Harris: A Biographical Sketch,” in Lawren Harris: Paintings, 1910–1948, ed. Sydney Key (Toronto: Art Gallery of Toronto, 1948), exhibition catalogue, 11.

3. Harris to Carr, June 1930, Emily Carr Papers, MS-2181, box 2, folder 3, BC Archives, Victoria.

Estimate: $80,000 - $120,000

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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