Lawren Harris

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This article is about the Canadian artist and member of the Group of Seven. For his artist son, see Lawren P. Harris.
Lawren Harris
Lawren Harris.JPG
Lawren Harris, April 25, 1926, photographed by M.O. Hammond
Born Lawren Stewart Harris
October 23, 1885
Brantford, Ontario, Canada
Died January 29, 1970(1970-01-29) (aged 84)
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Nationality Canadian
Known for Painting
Notable work North Shore, Lake Superior, 1926
Movement Group of Seven

Lawren Stewart Harris, CC (October 23, 1885 – January 29, 1970) was a Canadian painter. He was born in Brantford, Ontario and is best known as a member the Group of Seven who pioneered a distinctly Canadian painting style in the early twentieth century. A. Y. Jackson has been quoted as saying that Harris provided the stimulus for the Group of Seven. During the 1920s, Harris's works became more abstract and simplified, especially his stark landscapes of the Canadian north and Arctic. He also stopped signing and dating his works so that people would judge his works on their own merit and not by the artist or when they were painted.

In 1969 he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada.

Early life[edit]

Lawren Stewart Harris was born on October 23, 1885 to Thomas Morgan Harris and Anna J. Stewart (daughter of pastor William Boyd Stewart) in Brantford, Ontario into a wealthy family – the Harrises of the Massey-Harris industrialists. He attended Central Technical School and St. Andrew's College. From age 19 (1904 to 1908) he studied in Berlin. He was interested in philosophy and Eastern thought. Later, he became involved in Theosophy and joined the Toronto Lodge of the International Theosophical Society. Lawren went on to marry Beatrice (Trixie) Phillips on January 20, 1910, and together had three children born in the first decade of their marriage. Soon after meeting and becoming friends with J. E. H. MacDonald in 1911, they together formed the famous Group of Seven. He financed the construction of a studio building in Toronto with friend Dr. James MacCallum. The Studio provided artists with cheap or free space where they worked.


Group of seven artists: Frederick Varley, A. Y. Jackson, Lawren Harris, Fairley, Frank Johnston (artist), Arthur Lismer, and J. E. H. MacDonald

In 1918 and 1919, Harris with J. E. H. MacDonald financed boxcar trips for the artists of the Group of Seven to the Algoma region. Another painting trip after Algoma was to Lake Superior's North Shore with A.Y. Jackson. Harris was so passionate about the North Shore and fascinated by the theosophical concept of nature, he returned annually for the next seven years. There he developed the style he is best known for. Harris’s paintings in the early 1920s were characterized by rich, decorative colours that were applied thick, in painterly impasto. He painted landscapes around Toronto, Georgian Bay and Algoma. His first trip to the Rockies in 1924 soon became annual, too, for the next three years. In 1930, Harris’s landscape paintings became simplified as he sailed with A.Y. Jackson aboard a supply ship. Several members of the Group of Seven later became members of the Canadian Group of Painters including Harris, A. J. Casson, Arthur Lismer, A. Y. Jackson, and Franklin Carmichael.

Personal life[edit]

On January 20, 1910, Harris married Beatrice (Trixie) Phillips. The couple had three children. Harris later fell in love with Bess Housser, the wife of his school-time friend, F.B. Housser. Harris and Bess fell in love, but saw no way forward. For the two to divorce their spouses and marry would cause an outrage.

Harris finally left his wife of 24 years, Trixie, and his three children, and married Bess Housser in 1934. He was threatened with charges of bigamy by Trixie’s family because of his actions. Later that year he and Bess left their home and moved to the United States. Then in 1940 they moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, where Harris entered his abstract phase. Bess died in 1969.


Harris died in Vancouver in 1970, at the age of 84, as a well-known artist. He was buried on the grounds of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, where his work is now held.

Record sales[edit]

In 1981, South Shore, Buffington Island was sold for $240,000 a record price for a Canadian painting. [1]

On May 29, 2001, Harris's Baffin Island painting was sold for a record of $2.2 million (record up to that time).[2] Before the auction, experts predicted the painting done by one of the original Group of Seven would top $1 million, but no one expected it to fetch more than twice that amount. The painting, which has always been in private hands, depicts icy white mountains with a dramatic blue sky.

In 2005, Harris's painting, Algoma Hill was sold at a Sotheby's auction for $1.38 million. It had been stored in a backroom closet of a Toronto hospital for years and was almost forgotten about until cleaning staff found it.[3]

On May 23, 2007, Pine Tree and Red House, Winter, City Painting II by Harris came up for auction by Heffel Gallery in Vancouver, BC. The painting was a stunning canvas from 1924 that was estimated to sell between $800,000 - $1,200,000. The painting sold for a record-breaking $2,875,000 (premium included).

On November 24, 2008, Harris's Nerke, Greenland painting sold at a Toronto auction for $2 million (four times the pre-sale estimate).[4]

On November 26, 2009, Harris's oil sketch, The Old Stump, sold for a record $3.51 million at an auction in Toronto. To date, it is the second-highest amount ever paid at an art auction in Canada and the most ever paid for a Group of Seven (artists) painting.[5]

In May 2010, Harris's painting, Bylot Island I, sold for $2.8 million at a Heffel Gallery auction in Vancouver.[6]

On November 26, 2015 his painting Mountain and Glacier was auctioned for $3.9 million at a Heffel Fine Art Auction House auction in Toronto, breaking the previous record for the sale of one of Harris's works. Another piece, Winter Landscape, sold for a hammer price of $3.1 million in the same auction.[7]

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • Orford, Emily-Jane Hills. (2008). "The Creative Spirit: Stories of 20th Century Artists". Ottawa: Baico Publishing. ISBN 978-1-897449-18-9.

External links[edit]