Lawren Harris was a Canadian artist born with vision, determination, and talent and was the driving force for modern Canadian art in the 20th century. His aesthetic portrayal of the Idea of North, in Baffin Island and Lake Superior, is still considered Canada’s living image. His paintings have been exhibited in the esteemed National Gallery of Canada and the Art Gallery of Ontario and have inspired a pool of young Canadian artists.
Lawren Harris was born in Brantford, Ontario, on October 23, 1885, and is widely recognized as one of the founding members of the Group of Seven. His abstract landscape paintings of the Canadian horizon practically defined Canadian art in the 20th century. He pioneered a distinctly Canadian painting style in the early twentieth century, which is wisely relevant even today.
1. Early Life
Lawren Stewart Harris was born in Brantford, Ontario, on October 23, 1885, as the second child to the wealthy couple Thomas Morgan Harris and Anna Stewart. His father was a secretary in a farm-machinery firm called A. Harris, Sons & Company Ltd., which merged with the Massey firm in 1891, forming the Massey Harris Company.
A wealthy background enabled a young Lawren Harris to be free from all the financial worries for the rest of his life. Even after coming from an influential background, he formed his path, courtesy of his sheer hard work and passion. After his father died in 1894, the family moved to Toronto.
He was schooled at St Andrews College in Toronto and later studied in Berlin from 1904 to 1908. He was opened to a variety of knowledge of modern art through various public and private exhibitions.
2. Personal Life
Lawren Harris married Beatrice Philips in a private ceremony on January 20, 1910. He had three children from his marriage: Lawren P Harris, Margaret Annie Harris, and Howard K Harris. His marriage took a turn when he fell in love with Bess, the wife of his friend F. B. Housser.
He eventually left his wife and married Bess Houser in 1934. The divorce brought in a lot of outrage at that time, especially for a man of his stature.
Later, that year he moved to the United States with his new wife, Bess. In 1940, the couple moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, where Bess died in 1969. A year later, Harris also took his final breath.
Harris developed a keen interest in art during his time in Berlin. His wealthy background allowed him to attend many art exhibitions and absorb the rich European culture. He began his painting career under this influence and soon established himself as an exciting young artist with his aesthetic landscape oil paintings. The paintings of Lawren harris grew more popular and grim by 1919, evident by his landscapes of Lake Superior (from 1921) and the Rocky Mountains (from 1924). The contrasting shades in his hues symbolize the union of spirituality and the material world.
During the 1920s, Harris’s works became more abstract, especially for his portrayal of the peaks and arctic. By 1930, harris stopped signing and dating his paintings, as he wanted the people to judge his paintings on their merit and not by labels!
The Group of Seven was formed in 1920, and they began exhibiting all of their works collectively in Toronto. Lawren Harris was termed as the ‘stimulus of the group’ by his fellow members.
4. The Group of Seven
Lawren Harris was the founding member of ‘The Group of Seven’, in May 1920, along with J. MacDonald, Franklin Carmichael, A Y Jackson, Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer, and Fredrick Varley. All these artists were famous for their vivid landscapes of the rural lands of Ontario. They began their sketching trips to the Algoma Region of Ontario and later to the shores of Lake Superior as they found the outside of the city more aesthetically rewarding.
The group disbanded in 1933, but the surviving members played a huge role in forming one of the biggest national groups of artists in Canada, called The Canadian group of Painters. Harris was appointed the first president of the esteemed group.
Harris’s work has won him quite many accolades. He was awarded a gold medal at the Sesquicentennial International Exposition of Philadelphia in 1926. He also received an honorary degree from the University of British Colombia in 1946. He received an LLD from the University of Toronto and the University of Manitoba for his contribution. He received the Canada Council Medal in 1961 and was made a Companion of the prestigious ‘Order of Canada’, posthumously in 1970.
6. Record Sales
It’s been almost a century, but the paintings of Lawren Harris gets celebrated even today. Harris’s ‘Baffin Island‘ was sold for a staggering $2.2 million, a record sale for that time. None of the experts predicted such a high price for this painting of Lawren. In 2005, the “Algoma Hill” painting was sold for $1.38 million at the Sotheby’s Auction. His painting, ‘Pine tree and Red House‘, which came up in an auction in Vancouver, was sold for a record $2.85 million. The widely popular painting of Harris referred to as oil on canvas, ‘The Old Stump’ was sold for $3.51 million in Toronto.
In November 2015, his painting, Mountain and Glacier, was sold for a staggering $3.9 million at the Heffel Fine Art Auction. It broke the previous record sale for his works. In that same auction, ‘Winter Landscape’ was also sold at a high price of $3.1 million. The present high stand at an astounding price of $11.2 million is for the ‘Mountain Forms‘ sold at the Heffel Auction.
Lawren Harris’s paintings were a reflection of his thoughts and perception on the canvas. His way of using the lighter and the grimmer hues paved the way for many young artists worldwide. His changing outlook toward the world is evident in his works as time passed from the impressionistic painting of Toronto house in the early 1900s to the grimmer hues for Lake Superior and the last quarter of his career dedicated to total abstraction. His changing outlook towards the world and life has been quite evident in his works as time passed. His paintings richly depicted the struggle between spirituality and the material world.