Movement: Group of Seven
Lawren Stewart Harris' Famous Artworks
“Winter in the Northern Woods,” 1915
“Winter Landscape,” 1916
“Street in Barrie, Ont,” 1919-20
“North Shore, Lake Superior,” 1926
“The Old Stump, Lake Superior,” 1926
“Bylot Island,” 1930-31
“Mountain and Glacier,” 1930
Lawren Stewart Harris was a leading Canadian
painter, who was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1969. His fame rests on his involvement with the Group of Seven and the Canadian Group of Painters, who established a truly Canadian art school of painting in the 20th century.
Lawren Stewart Harris' Early Life
Lawren Stewart Harris was born in Brantford, Ontario, on October 23 in 1885. Harris was born into a wealthy family, the Harrises of Massey-Harris industries, and enjoyed a privileged upbringing. He studied at the Central Technical School and later attended the St. Andrew’s College. For four years between 1904 and 1908, he studied Philosophy and Eastern thought in Berlin. This interest later led Harris to join the International Theosophical Society. With complete financial security, he then plunged into art and painting.
Lawren Stewart Harris and the Group of Seven
In 1913, Harris joined the Group of Seven, comprising Canadian landscape painters. The group often met at the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto to share their work and discuss new ideas. Harris and the art patron Dr. James MacCallum jointly built the group’s studio premises in 1914 and supported it financially. The studio provided artists with a cheap place to work and live in, while they focused on painting landscapes through their travels all over Ontario. In 1919, some group members, Harris included, made a conscious decision to develop a distinctly Canadian form of art, and the next year, formally established the Canadian Group of Painters. They started holding annual exhibitions from then on.
Lawren Stewart Harris as a Budding Artist
In 1913, Harris, along with fellow artist J.E.H. MacDonald, saw an exhibition of Scandinavian artists in New York that deeply impressed him. Greatly influenced, he started painting ornamental landscapes and oil paintings. In 1918 and 1919, he financed the now famous boxcar trips for artists to the Algoma region. These trips produced some of Canadian art’s most stunning landscapes.
Post-1918, however, Harris’s work had become more somber and his brushstrokes more expressive. He was, by this time, fascinated with Lake Superior's North Shore and with Theosophical ideas about nature. He went there continuously for seven years to paint. It is here that he developed the artistic style that he was so well known for – rich and decorative colors applied in thick layers on painterly impasto.
Lawren Stewart Harris' Maturing as an Artist
By the 1920s, Harris’s work became more abstract and the spirit behind it more intellectual and spiritual. His landscapes were becoming more reductive. In 1937, he moved to America. There, inspired by the Transcendentalist group he met in Taos, New Mexico, he established the Transcendental Painting Group with other artists such as Raymond Jonson and Agnes Pelton. The landscapes of this period can be described as cool, minus the warm romanticism of landscapes in general. In 1940, he shifted to British Columbia, becoming a leading member of the Vancouver arts community, where his Abstract phase now started in earnest. He supported young artists to come into their own. During his later years, his abstract paintings took a more organic form, going from stark northern landscapes to geometric abstractions that expressed his spiritual values as well as the external world.
Lawren Stewart Harris' Personal Life
Harris married his first wife Beatrice (Trixie) Phillips on January 20, 1910. Together they had three children. Later he fell in love with his schoolfriend F.B. Housser’s wife, Bess Housser. Harris and Bess saw no way forward but to divorce their respective spouses, however, they delayed this step as it would have caused deep outrage.
In 1934, he left Trixie and married Bess. Trixie’s family charged him with bigamy, and to escape this situation, he and Bess moved to America in 1937. In 1940, however, he returned to Canada
and lived in Vancouver until his death.
Lawren Stewart Harris' Death and Legacy
By the time he died in Vancouver on January 29 in 1970, Harris was regarded as an eminent artist and a key figure in the evolution of 20th-century Canadian art. He was buried in the grounds of the McMichael Art Gallery in Vancouver, where his work is now held. You can buy Lawren Stewart Harris's artworks online.
Lawren Stewart Harris' Museums/Collections
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, British Columbia
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto
Dalhousie University Art Gallery, Halifax
Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon
“The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris” by Steve Martin and Cynthia Burlingham
“Lawren Harris: An Introduction to His Life and Art” by Joan Murray
“Inward Journey: The Life of Lawren Harris” by James King
“Lawren Harris: In the Ward” by Lawren Harris and Gregory Betts
“The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson” by David Silcox