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Lawren Harris
(1885-1970)

Back to Realism / Naturalism

Introduction
Carmichael Harris Jackson Johnston Lismer
MacDonald Varley Casson FitzGerald Holgate
Tom Thomson

Born in Brantford, Ontario, Harris moved to Toronto, Ontario, as a youth. He first studied art in Berlin, Germany, from 1904 to 1908. He then returned to Toronto, where he began painting impressionist street scenes of the older and poorer areas of Toronto. 

Canada 1989. Group of Seven. Realism/Naturalism. Lawren Harris. Snow II.

Canada 1967. Group of Seven. Realism/Naturalism. Lawren Harris. Bylot Island (Greenland Mountains).

He continued to paint similar subjects, both of Toronto and of small Ontario towns, into the 1920s. 

In 1913 Harris and J. E. H. MacDonald, another Toronto painter who would later form The Group of Seven, saw an exhibition in Buffalo, New York, of Scandinavian art. Under this influence, Harris began painting decorative landscapes, such as Snow II.  

 

By 1919 Harris’s landscapes had become increasingly sombre and his brush stroke more expressive. In the 1920s he became a follower of the religious philosophical system known as Theosophy.  During this period, Harris’s landscapes, of Lake Superior (from 1921), the Rocky Mountains (from 1924), and the Arctic (1930), became more stylized.  For example, in North Shore, Lake Superior, forms lose texture, while colour and light symbolize the interplay between the spiritual and material. 
 
This painting divides reality into three dimensions. In the first, in front of the picture plane, the beholder stands self-consciously outside the scene. In the second, the lower half of the picture, the northern Ontario landscape is presented as a cold and vast expanse of space, only partially delineated by headlands or the occasional island. Harris presents primal, empty wilderness. Above the horizon line occurs the the higher level of reality as the third. 

The careful paint application evident below the horizon is gradually changed so that the paint on the brown cloud-like forms at the upper edge is loosely scrubbed in. The warmth, the light emanates from this level; it is heavenly, not earthly, light. On this high plane the painter is working from his imagination towards nature; below it is reversed, with the painter working from nature towards imagination. 

  • Canada 1995.  From the North Shore, Lake Superior.  Painted 1926, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.  Scott # 1559b. 

 

Canada 1995. Group of Seven. Realism/Naturalism. Lawren Harris. From the North Shore, Lake Superior.

Art is the beginning of vision, that there is a logic of ecstasy, and that this higher logic is the only one worthy of consideration, that it contains complete corroboration of all the loftiest aspirations of men. 

Lawren Harris

Several Toronto painters joined Harris on outings to northern Ontario, from which they produced landscape paintings that represented a new, distinctly Canadian art. In 1920 these artists formed the Group of Seven and began holding almost annual exhibitions of their work in Toronto. The most intellectual of the group, Harris was a great nationalist and an enthusiast who inspired others. For Harris, creativity was the measure of a nation’s status, and art was a means to bring about spiritual, rather than political, changes in Canadian society. 

In 1934 Harris moved to Hanover, New Hampshire, then in 1938 to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he and other artists formed the Transcendental Painting Group. By then he was painting geometric abstractions derived from theosophical symbolism, and the landscape. After he moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1940, he increasingly derived his abstractions from nature. 

 
Introduction
Carmichael Harris Jackson Johnston Lismer
MacDonald Varley Casson FitzGerald Holgate
Tom Thomson

Sources and links:

Other Realist artists on this site: 
 

Back to Realism / Naturalism

Many thanks to Paul B. Ohannesian (Canada) for all help and research. 


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