Lawren Stewart Harris was a leading landscape painter, imbuing his paintings with a spiritual dimension. An inspirer of other artists, he was a key figure in the Group of Seven and gave new vision to representations of the northern Canadian landscape.
Lawren Harris spent three years studying in Germany (1904-07), where he became interested in theosophy, a mystical branch of religious philosophy that would inform his later painting. Coming from a wealthy family he was able to devote himself entirely to his art.
Shortly after his return to Toronto, Harris had demonstrated a keen interest in Toronto’s urban landscape, producing numerous urban studies, including pencil sketches, oil sketches and larger paintings of Toronto urban scenes. This period of work from c. 1909 – 1926 constitutes a significant period of Harris’ artistic legacy. Jeremy Adamson, Lawren Harris scholar and art historian, noted in the catalogue to accompany the Art Gallery of Ontario exhibition Lawren S. Harris, Urban Scenes and Wilderness Landscapes, 1906 – 1930, “during this period Lawren Harris continually turned to urban scenes. No other member of the Group of Seven painted Toronto subjects as consistently as Harris and his house pictures were regarded by many people as among his most attractive works.”1
At the Arts and Letters Club in Toronto Harris met other artists with similar nationalist concerns. In 1920 Lawren Harris, J.E.H. MacDonald, Frank Johnston, Franklin Carmichael, A.Y. Jackson, F.H. Varley, and Arthur Lismer formed the Group of Seven. These artists would collectively create a range of new representations of the Canadian landscape, particularly the North. Over the course of his career, Harris’ painting evolved from Impressionist-influenced, decorative landscapes to stark images of the northern landscape to geometric abstractions. He painted in the Algoma region from 1918 to 1924, on the north shore of Lake Superior from 1921 to 1928, in the Rocky Mountains from 1924, and in the Arctic in 1930. For Harris art was to express spiritual values as well as to represent the visible world. North Shore, Lake Superior (1926), an image of a solitary weathered tree stump surrounded by an expanse of dramatically lit sky, effectively evokes the tension between the terrestrial and spiritual.
From 1934 to 1937, Harris lived in Hanover, New Hampshire, where he painted his first abstract works, a direction he would continue for the rest of his life. In 1938 he moved to Sante Fe, New Mexico, and helped found the Transcendental Painting Group, an organization of artists who advocated a spiritual form of abstraction.
Harris settled in Vancouver in 1940, where he continued to paint and involve himself with arts organizations, playing an important role in this milieu until his death.
Above text extracted directly from National Gallery of Canada website.
1Jeremy Adamson, Lawren S. Harris, Urban Scenes and Wilderness Landscapes, 1906 – 1930, pg. 25 1