Lawren Harris

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Lawren Harris

Lawren Harris.JPG
Harris in 1926, photographed by M. O. Hammond
Lawren Stewart Harris

October 23, 1885
DiedJanuary 29, 1970(1970-01-29) (aged 84)
Resting placeKleinburg, Ontario, Canada
Notable work
North Shore, Lake Superior, 1926
MovementGroup of Seven

Lawren Stewart Harris CC (October 23, 1885 – January 29, 1970) was a Canadian painter, born in Brantford, Ontario. He is best known as a member of the Group of Seven who asserted a distinct national identity combined with a common heritage stemming from early modernism in Europe 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' works became more abstract and simplified, especially his stark landscapes of the Canadian north and Arctic. In the 1930s, He stopped signing, titling 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.


Early years[edit]

Lawren Stewart Harris was born on October 23, 1885 in Brantford, Ontario. He was the son of Thomas Morgan Harris and Anna Stewart. His father was secretary to the firm of A. Harris, Sons & Company Ltd., merchants of farm machinery, which merged with the Massey firm in 1891, forming the Massey-Harris Company, later known as Massey-Ferguson.[1][2] Lawren Harris` share of the fortune that resulted made him free from financial cares the rest of his life.[3] Although born to wealth, he was an individual who made his own path in his own individual way.[4][5] In 1894, his father died and the family moved to Toronto.[6] In 1899, he began to board at St. Andrews College, which was located in Rosedale in Toronto at the time, then in 1903 attended University College at the University of Toronto.[7] From 1904 to 1908 he studied in Berlin, where he obtained a solid academic training and a knowledge of modern art through public and private exhibitions he saw there.[7] Among these exhibitions were several of the Berlin Secession and a comprehensive review of 19th century German art.[8]


Lawren Harris in his Vancouver studio, circa 1944.

In Toronto, to which he returned in 1908, Harris found friends through the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto which he helped found along with his friend Roy Mitchell (1884-1944).[9][10] In 1911, he met and became friends with J. E. H. MacDonald who was exhibiting sketches at the Club. Around 1913 or 1914, he became interested in philosophy and Eastern thought, likely through Mitchell, and later, he became absorbed by Theosophy (although it was not until 1924 that he formally joined the Toronto Lodge of the International Theosophical Society).[11]

In 1914, Harris began to take the steps that would cement a group of like-minded artists together in Canadian art. That year, he and his friend Dr. James MacCallum, financed the construction of a Studio Building in Toronto which provided artists, among them Tom Thomson, with an inexpensive space to work. (In 1915, Harris fixed up a shack behind the Studio Building for Thomson).[12] In 1918 and 1919, Harris financed boxcar trips for the artists of the later Group of Seven to the Algoma region, travelling along the Algoma Central Railway and painting in areas such as the Montreal River and Agawa Canyon.

In May 1920, Harris, J. E. H. MacDonald, and Franklin Carmichael, A. Y. Jackson, Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer, and Frederick Varley, formed the Group of Seven.[13] In the fall of 1921, Harris ventured beyond Algoma to Lake Superior's North Shore, where he would return annually for the next seven years. While his urban and Algoma paintings of the late 1910s and early 1920s were characterized by rich, bright colours and decorative compositional motifs, the discovery of Lake Superior as a source of subject material meant the depiction of what Jackson called a "sublime order".[14] Harris conveyed the spiritual side to the scene through a more austere, simplified style, with a limited palette.[15][16] In 1924, a sketching trip with A.Y. Jackson to Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies marked the beginning of Harris' mountain subjects, which he continued to explore with annual sketching trips until 1928, exploring areas around Banff National Park, Yoho National Park and Mount Robson Provincial Park.[17] In 1926, he represented Canada in the International Exhibition of Modern Art organized by the Société Anonyme (of which he was a member) and shown at the Brooklyn Museum in New York:[18] he helped bring the show to Toronto in 1927.[19] In 1930, Harris went on his last extended sketching trip, travelling to Greenland, the Canadian Arctic and Labrador aboard the Royal Canadian Mounted Police supply ship and ice breaker, the SS. Beothic, for two months, during which time he completed over 50 sketches. The resulting Arctic canvases that he developed from the oil panels marked the end of his landscape period.

Harris always had been deeply interested in developments in modern art. In 1934, he painted his first abstract pictures, which depended partly on his desire to express ideas of the spirit, partly on his earlier landscapes of Lake Superior, the Rocky Mountains and the Arctic.[20] After a period of experimentation, from 1936 on, Harris enthusiastically embraced abstract painting.[21] In these years, he moved to Hanover, New Hampshire in 1934, then Sante Fe, New Mexico in 1938 and finally, Vancouver in 1940. In time, he left all reference to landscape behind, and his work underwent changes towards a more organic form. In the mid and late 1950s, it became abstract expressionist.[22] In 1954, always an idealist, he wrote:[23]

...(in abstract art), we have a creative adventure in harmony with the highest aspiration and search for truth, beauty and expressive evocation and communication in our own day".

Memberships in Art Organizations[edit]

In May 1920, Harris, J. E. H. MacDonald, and Franklin Carmichael, A. Y. Jackson, Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer, and Frederick Varley, formed the Group of Seven.[13] After the disbanding of the Group of Seven in 1933, Harris and the other surviving members, were instrumental in forming its successor, the larger national group, the Canadian Group of Painters. Harris served as its first president.[24] In 1938, he helped organize the Transcendental Group of Painters in the United States.[25] In 1941, he was a founder of the Federation of Canadian Artists, founded in Toronto[25] and President (1944-1947).[26]


In 1926, his work won a gold medal at Sesquicentennial International Exposition of Philadelphia. In 1931, he won the Baltimore Museum of Art prize in the first Baltimore Pan-American Exhibition of Contemporary Paintings. In 1946, Harris was awarded an honorary degree from the University of British Columbia. He received an L.L.D. from the University of Toronto in 1951. In 1953, he received an L.L.D. from the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg. In 1961, he received the Canada Council medal for 1961. In 1970, he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada, conferred posthumously.[27][28]

Personal life[edit]

On January 20, 1910, Harris married Beatrice (Trixie) Phillips. The couple had three children: Lawren P. Harris, Margaret Anne Harris, Howard K. Harris, all born in the first decade of their marriage. Harris later fell in love with Bess, the wife of his school-time friend, F.B. Housser, but divorce was seen at the time as causing an outrage, particularly for a man as socially prominent as Harris.

Harris eventually 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. In 1940 they moved to Vancouver, British Columbia. Bess died in 1969. Lawren Stewart Harris died in Vancouver in 1970. His ashes and those of Bess are buried on the grounds of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg.


In 2016 a film about Harris's life, Where the Universe Sings, was produced by TV Ontario. It was created by filmmaker Peter Raymont and directed by Nancy Lang.[29]

Record sale prices[edit]

In 1981, South Shore, Baffin Island was sold for $240,000, a record price for a Canadian painting.[30] On May 29, 2001, Harris's Baffin Island painting was sold for a record of $2.2 million (record up to that time).[31] 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.[32]

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 and $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).[33]

On November 26, 2009, Harris's oil sketch, The Old Stump, sold for $3.51 million at an auction in Toronto.[34] In May 2010, Harris's painting, Bylot Island I, sold for $2.8 million at a Heffel Gallery auction in Vancouver, British Columbia.[35] 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.[36] On November 23, 2016, Mountain Forms, estimated at $3-5 million, sold for $11.2 million at the Heffel Auction, the present high.[37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Lawren Harris (1885-1910)" (PDF). Ontario Heritage Trust. Retrieved 27 November 2016.
  2. ^ Murray, Joan. "Lawren Harris". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada. Retrieved 27 November 2016.
  3. ^ Murray 2003, p. 10.
  4. ^ Murray 2003, p. 9.
  5. ^ "Lawren S. Harris (1885-1970)". McMichael Canadian Art Collection. Retrieved 27 November 2016.
  6. ^ Murray 2003, p. 11.
  7. ^ a b Murray 2003, p. 12.
  8. ^ Adamson 1978, p. 13, Chronology by Peter Larisey.
  9. ^ Adamson 1978, p. 14, Chronology by Peter Larisey.
  10. ^ Murray 2003, p. 15.
  11. ^ Murray 2003, p. 57.
  12. ^ Adamson 1978, p. 15, Chronology by Peter Larisey.
  13. ^ a b Murray 2003, p. 30.
  14. ^ Murray 2003, p. 31ff.
  15. ^ Murray 2003, p. 32.
  16. ^ Adamson 1978, p. 140ff.
  17. ^ Murray 2003, p. 40.
  18. ^ "Brooklyn Museum". Brooklyn Museum. Retrieved 2021-06-18.
  19. ^ Murray & origins of abstraction, 1994, p. 14.
  20. ^ Adamson 1978, p. 203.
  21. ^ Murray 2003, p. 42ff.
  22. ^ Reid 1985, p. 11.
  23. ^ Harris 1954, p. 16.
  24. ^ Murray 2003, p. 42.
  25. ^ a b Murray 2003, p. 52.
  26. ^ Reid 1985, p. 106.
  27. ^ Murray 2003, p. Chronology.
  28. ^ Reid 1985, p. 107-108.
  29. ^ "Lawren Harris film captures acclaimed painter’s life and times". Toronto Star, Lauren La Rose, June 25, 2016
  30. ^ chronicle of Canada, (Montreal, 1990) Chronicle Publications, at pp.858 -859.
  31. ^ ""Baffin Island" painting sold for record $2.2 million". CBC News. 30 May 2001. Retrieved 27 November 2016.
  32. ^ Lawren Harris painting sells for $1.38 million,, retrieved on May 16, 2007.
  33. ^ Group of Seven founder's art worth $1M Archived 2012-11-08 at the Wayback Machine, Canwest News Service, retrieved on November 25, 2008.
  34. ^ "Group of Seven sketch draws $3.5M | CBC News".
  35. ^ Dhillon, Sunny (27 May 2010). "Lawren Harris painting goes for $2.8 million at Heffel auction | Toronto Star". Toronto Star. Retrieved 27 November 2016.
  36. ^ "Lawren Harris, Tom Thomson and Alex Colville paintings smash records at auction". CBC News. November 26, 2015. Retrieved November 27, 2015.
  37. ^ Wheeler, Brad (24 November 2016). "Lawren Harris 'Mountain Forms' painting sells for record $11.2-million". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 24 November 2016.

Further reading[edit]

Primary sources[edit]

  • Harris, Lawren (1922). Contrasts: A Book of Verse. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart.
  • ——— (July 1926). "The Revelation of Art in Canada". Canadian Theosophist. 7: 85–88.
  • ——— (May 1927). "Modern Art and Aesthetic Reactions: An Appreciation". Canadian Forum. 7: 239–41.
  • ——— (1929). "Creative Art and Canada". In Brooker, Bertram (ed.). Yearbook of the Arts in Canada, 1928-29. Toronto: Macmillan. pp. 177–86.
  • ——— (15 July 1933). "Theosophy and Art". Canadian Theosophist. 14 (5): 129–32.
  • ——— (15 Aug 1933). "Theosophy and Art". Canadian Theosophist. 14 (6): 161–6.
  • ——— (Dec 1933). "Different Idioms in Creative Art". Canadian Comment. 2 (12): 5–6, 32.
  • ——— (October 1943). "The Function of Art". Art Gallery Bulletin [Vancouver Art Gallery]. 2: 2–3.
  • ——— (1948). "The Group of Seven in Canadian History". Canadian Historical Association: Report of the Annual Meeting held at Victoria and Vancouver, 16-19 June 1948. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. pp. 28–38.
  • ——— (Jan 1949). "An Essay on Abstract Painting". Royal Architectural Institute of Canada Journal. 26 (1): 3–8.
  • ——— (1954). Abstract Painting: A Disquisition. Toronto: Rous and Mann Press.
  • ——— (1964). The Story of the Group of Seven. Toronto: Rous and Mann Press., reproduced in Murray, Joan; Harris, Lawren (1993), The Best of the Group of Seven, McClelland & Stewart, ISBN 0-7710-6674-0
  • Harris, Lawren (Summer 1987). "Lawren Harris's Fallacies About Art". Canadian Literature (113–114): 129–143. Retrieved 2021-04-30.

Secondary sources[edit]

  • Adamson, Jeremy (2008). "Lawren Harris: Towards an Art of the Spiritual". The Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Toronto: Skylet. pp. 67–87.
  • Bell, Andrew (Christmas 1948). "Lawren Harris: A Retrospective Exhibition of His Painting, 1910-1948". Canadian Art. 6 (2): 50–3.
  • Boyanoski, Christine (1989). "Charles Comfort's Lake Superior Village and the Great Lakes Exhibition". Journal of Canadian Art History. 12 (2): 174–98.
  • Carr, Angela K. (1998). "Portrait of Dr. Salem Bland: Another Spiritual Journey for Lawren S. Harris?". Journal of Canadian Art History. 19 (2): 6–27.
  • Christensen, Lisa (2000). A Hiker's Guide to the Rocky Mountain Art of Lawren Harris. Calgary: Fifth House.
  • Duncan, Norman (1909). Going Down from Jerusalem: The Narrative of a Sentimental Traveller. New York and London: Harper and Brothers.
  • Duval, Paul (2011). Where the Universe Sings. Toronto: Cerebrus.
  • Fairley, Barker (June 1921). "Some Canadian Painters: Lawren Harris". Canadian Forum. 1: 275–78.
  • Foss, Brian (1999). ""Snychronism" in Canada: Lawren Harris, Decorative Landscape, and Willard Huntington Wright, 1916-1917". Journal of Canadian Art History. 20 (1/2): 68–91.
  • Frye, Northrop (Christmas 1948). "The Pursuit of Form". Canadian Art. 6 (2): 54–7.
  • Harris, Bess; Colgrove, R. G. P., eds. (1969). Lawren Harris. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada.
  • King, James (2012). Inward Journey: The Life of Lawren Harris. Toronto: Thomas Allen.
  • Larisey, Peter (1982). The Landscape Painting of Lawren Stewart Harris (Ph.D. thesis). Columbia University.
  • ——— (1993). Light for a Cold Land: Lawren Harris's Work and Life; An Interpretation. Toronto: Dundurn.
  • ——— (1974). "Nationalist Aspects of Lawren S. Harris's Aesthetics". National Gallery of Canada Bulletin/Galerie National du Canada Bulletin. 23: 3–9.
  • ——— (1974). "A Portfolio of Landscapes by Lawren S. Harris/Carton de paysages de Lawren S. Harris". National Gallery of Canada Bulletin/Galerie National du Canada Bulletin. 23: 10–16.
  • Lauder, Brian (Summer 1976). "Two Radicals: Richard Maurice Bucke and Lawren Harris". Dalhousie Review. 56 (2): 307–18.
  • Linsley, Robert (1996). "Landscapes in Motion: Lawren Harris and the Heterogeneous Modern Nation". Oxford Art Journal. 19 (1): 80–95. doi:10.1093/oxartj/19.1.80.
  • Mandel, Eli (Oct–Nov 1978). "The Inward, Northward Journey of Lawren Harris". Artscanada. 35 (3): 17–24.
  • Mergen, Bernard (1997). The Modern Minds of Winter. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press. pp. 207–46.
  • Murray, Joan (2003). Lawren Harris: An Introduction to his Life and Art. Toronto: Firefly Books. p. 9. Retrieved 2021-04-26.
  • Murray, Joan (1994). Northern lights: masterpieces of Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven. Toronto: Key Porter. Retrieved 2021-04-20.
  • Murray, Joan (1994). Origins of Abstraction in Canada: Modernist Pioneers. Oshawa: Robert McLaughlin Gallery. Retrieved 2021-06-18.
  • Murray, Joan (Summer 1987). "The Literary Lawren Harris: Introduction to Lawren Harris's Fallacies About Art". Canadian Literature (113–114): 129–143. Retrieved 2021-04-30.
  • Murray, Joan; Fulford, Robert (1982). The Beginning of Vision: The Drawings of Lawren S. Harris. Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre in association with Mira Godard Editions.
  • Plaff, L.R. (1978). "Portraits by Lawren Harris: Salem Bland and Others". RACAR: Revue d'art canadienne / Canadian Art Review. 5 (1): 21–7.
  • Reid, Dennis (Dec 1968). "Lawren Harris". Artscanada. 25 (5): 9–16.
  • Robins, John (Apr–May 1944). "Lawren Harris". Canadian Review of Music and Other Arts. 2 (3/4): 13–14.
  • Smith, Sydney (Feb–Mar 1942). "The Recent Abstract Work of Lawren Harris". Maritime Art. 2 (3): 79–81.
  • Street, Linda Marjorie (1980). Emily Carr: Lawren Harris and Theosophy, 1927-1933 (Dissertation). Ottawa: Carleton University.
  • Trainor, James (Feb 2001). "Facing North". Border Crossings. 20 (1): 61–3.
  • "What B.C. Means to Nine of Its Best Artists". Maclean's. Vol. 71 no. 10. 10 May 1958. pp. 27–33.

Exhibition catalogues[edit]

  • Adamson, Jeremy (1978). Lawren S. Harris: Urban Scenes and Wilderness Landscapes, 1906-1930. Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario. (Chronology by Peter Larisey)
  • Hunter, Andrew (2000). Lawren Stewart Harris: A Painter's Progress. New York: Americas Society.
  • Jackson, Christopher (1991). Lawren Harris: North by West; The Arctic and Rocky Mountain Paintings of Lawren Harris, 1924-1931/Lawren Harris: le Grand Nord via l'Ouest: les tableaux de l'Arctique et des Rocheuses peints par Lawren Harris de 1924 à 1931. Calgary: Glenbow Museum.
  • Lawren Harris, Paintings, 1910-1948. Toronto: Art Gallery of Toronto. 1948.
  • Lawren Harris Retrospective Exhibition 1963. Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada. 1963.
  • Lawren P. Harris, 37/72. Halifax: Dalhousie Art Gallery, Halifax. 1972.
  • Martin, Steve; Burlingham, Cynthia; Hunter, Andrew; Quinn, Karen (2015). The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris. Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario. ISBN 978-3791354705.
  • Reid, Dennis (1985). Atma Buddhi Manas: The Later Work of Lawren S. Harris. Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario.

The Group of Seven and Canadian art[edit]

  • Boulet, Roger (1982), The Canadian Earth, M. Bernard Loates, Cerebrus Publishing, ISBN 0920016103, archived from the original on 2012-12-08
  • Cole, Douglas (Summer 1978). "Artists, Patrons and Public: An Inquiry into the Success of the Group of Seven". Journal of Canadian Studies. 13 (2): 69–78. doi:10.3138/jcs.13.2.69. S2CID 152198969.
  • Colgate, William (1943). Canadian Art: Its Origin and Development. Toronto: Ryerson Press.
  • Davis, Ann (1992). The Logic of Ecstasy: Canadian Mystical Painting, 1920-1940. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
  • Dawn, Leslie (2006). National Visions, National Blindness: Canadian Art and Identities in the 1920s. Vancouver: UBC Press.
  • Dejardin, Ian, ed. (2011). Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven. London: Dulwich Picture Gallery.
  • Duvall, Paul (1972). Four Decades: The Canadian Group of Painters and Their Contemporaries, 1930-1970. Toronto: Clarke Irwin.
  • Grace, Sherrill E. (2004). Canada and the Idea of North. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.
  • Harper, J. Russell (1966). Painting in Canada: A History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
  • Hill, Charles C. (1995). The Group of Seven: Art for a Nation. Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada.
  • Housser, F. B. (1926). A Canadian Art Movement: The Story of the Group of Seven. Toronto: Macmillan.
  • Hubbard, R.H. (1963). The Development of Canadian Art. Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada.
  • Jackson, A.Y. (1958). A Painter's Country. Toronto: Clarke Irwin.
  • King, Ross (2010). Defiant Spirits: The Modernist Revolution of the Group of Seven. D & M Publishers. ISBN 978-1553658078.
  • MacDonald, Thoreau (1944). The Group of Seven. Toronto: Ryerson Press.
  • MacTavish, Newton (1925). The Fine Arts in Canada. Toronto: Macmillan.
  • McInnis, Graham C. (1950). Canadian Art. Toronto: Macmillan.
  • McKay, Marylin J. (2011). Picturing the Land: Narrating Territories in Canadian Landscape Art, 1500-1950. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.
  • Mellen, Peter (1970). The Group of Seven. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart.
  • Murray, Joan (1994). Northern lights: masterpieces of Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven. Toronto: Key Porter. Retrieved 2021-04-20.
  • Murray, Joan (1993), The Best of the Group of Seven, McClelland & Stewart, ISBN 0-7710-6674-0
  • O'Brian, John; White, Peter, eds. (2007). Beyond Wilderness: The Group of Seven, Canadian Identity, and Contemporary Art. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.
  • Orford, Emily-Jane Hills (2008). The Creative Spirit: Stories of 20th Century Artists. Ottawa: Baico Publishing. ISBN 978-1-897449-18-9.
  • Reid, Dennis (1970). The Group of Seven. Ottawa: The National Gallery of Canada.
  • Robson, Albert H. (1932). Canadian Landscape Painters. Toronto: Ryerson Press.
  • Rosenblum, Robert (1975). Modern Painting and the Northern Romantic Tradition: Friedrich to Rothko. New York: Harper & Row.
  • Silcox, David P. (2011). The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson. Richmond Hill: Firefly Books. ISBN 978-1554078851.

External links[edit]