Painting of Mt. Lefroy by Lawren Harris, 1930

Mt. Lefroy, 1930, the Rockies, Banff National Park, Alberta/British Columbia border

Lawren S. Harris (1885-1970)

1975.7
© McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Purchase 1975. All Rights Reserved.


"When I first saw the mountains, travelled through them, I was most discouraged. Nowhere did they measure up to the advertising folders, or to the conception these had formed in my mind's eye. But, after I became better acquainted with the mountains, camped and tramped and lived among them, I found a power and majesty and a wealth of experience at nature's summit which no travel-folder ever expressed."1

"If we view a great mountain soaring into the sky, it may excite us, evoke an uplifted feeling within us. There is an interplay of something we see outside of us with our inner response."

"The artist takes that response and its feelings and shapes it on canvas with paint so that when finished it contains the experience."2
"When I first saw the mountains, travelled through them, I was most discouraged. Nowhere did they measure up to the advertising folders, or to the conception these had formed in my mind's eye. But, after I became better acquainted with the mountains, camped and tramped and lived among them, I found a power and majesty and a wealth of experience at nature's summit which no travel-folder ever expressed."1

"If we view a great mountain soaring into the sky, it may excite us, evoke an uplifted feeling within us. There is an interplay of something we see outside of us with our inner response."

"The artist takes that response and its feelings and shapes it on canvas with paint so that when finished it contains the experience."2

1 Bess Harris and R. G. P. Colgrove, eds., Lawren Harris (Toronto: Macmillan, 1969) 62.

2 Bess Harris and R. G. P. Colgrove, eds., Lawren Harris (Toronto: Macmillan, 1969) 76.


© 1969, Macmillan. All Rights Reserved.

Lawren Harris's search for "a deeper and more universal expression" took him farther afield not only geographically but also artistically, eventually to a complete abstraction. His first visit to the Rockies was in 1924; it was a journey he repeated annually for the next three years…. His paintings of the mountains and of icebergs show the realization of his painterly and religious ideals: the landscape is simplified to its basic forms, dominant and massive. In Mt. Lefroy the diagonal lines of the mountain's shape draw the viewer's eye toward the white peak and the light surrounding it. [Harris’ works of demonstrate his theosophical beliefs] in which the purity of truth is compared to a white ray of light; blues indicate various states of religious feeling, and clarity of outline and shapes such as the pyramid reflect the spiritual state.1
Lawren Harris's search for "a deeper and more universal expression" took him farther afield not only geographically but also artistically, eventually to a complete abstraction. His first visit to the Rockies was in 1924; it was a journey he repeated annually for the next three years…. His paintings of the mountains and of icebergs show the realization of his painterly and religious ideals: the landscape is simplified to its basic forms, dominant and massive. In Mt. Lefroy the diagonal lines of the mountain's shape draw the viewer's eye toward the white peak and the light surrounding it. [Harris’ works of demonstrate his theosophical beliefs] in which the purity of truth is compared to a white ray of light; blues indicate various states of religious feeling, and clarity of outline and shapes such as the pyramid reflect the spiritual state.1

1Megan Bice, "Lawren Harris," The McMichael Canadian Art Collection (Kleinburg: The McMichael Canadian Art Collection, 1989) 49.


© 1989, McMichael Canadian Art Collection. All Rights Reserved.

Lawren Harris’ sketch of Mount Lefroy, c.1925

Mount Lefroy, c.1925, the Rockies, Banff National Park, Alberta/British Columbia border

Lawren S. Harris (1885-1970)

1986.1
© McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Purchase 1986. All Rights Reserved.


Lawren S. Harris' sketch of Mt. Lefroy, c.1929

Rocky Mountain Sketch, Mt. Lefroy, c.1929, the Rockies, Banff National Park, Alberta/British Columbia border

Lawren S. Harris (1885-1970)

1971.12
© 2006, McMichael Canadian Art Collection. All Rights Reserved.


Lawren S. Harris' sketch of Mt. Lefroy, c.1929

Mt. Lefroy c.1929, the Rockies, Banff National Park, Alberta/British Columbia border

Lawren S. Harris (1885-1970)

1981.85.2
© McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Purchase 1973. All Rights Reserved.


Lawren S. Harris’ grided drawing sketch of Mt. Lefroy, c.1929

Preparatory Drawing for Mt. Lefroy c.1930, the Rockies, Banff National Park, Alberta/British Columbia border

Lawren S. Harris (1885-1970)

1975.64
© McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Gift of Mr./Mrs. L.P. Harris in memory. All Rights Reserved.


Lawren S. Harris in front of an easel in the Studio Building, 1920, Toronto

Lawren S. Harris in the Studio Building, 1920/Toronto, ON, Lawren Harris fonds / Library and Archives Canada / C-085902

Unknown

© Lawren Harris fonds/Library and Archives Canada/C-085902. All Rights Reserved.


Born in Brantford, Ontario, into a wealthy, [conservative, and religious] family, co-founders of the Massey-Harris farm-machinery company, [Lawren Harris enjoyed many privileges]. Freed from the necessity of making a living, he could concentrate on his painting [and, at the age of nineteen, travelled toGermanyStudio Building in Toronto , providing artists with [a place to] live and work. [This allowed the artists to work together and share ideas, thus bringing them together.] In addition, Harris organized the first of the famed boxcar trips to Algoma. Fellow group member A.Y. Jackson claimed: "Without Harris there would have been no Group of Seven. He provided the stimulus; it was he who encouraged us to always take the bolder course, to find new trails." where he studied for three years. Apart from his travels,] [h]is financial independence allowed him to make several important and practical contributions to the development of the Group [of Seven]. In 1913, with his friend Dr. James MacCallum, he financed the construction of the still existing

In 1921, Harris and Jackson went to the North Shore of Lake Superior where Harris [encountered] a stark and bare land Read More
Born in Brantford, Ontario, into a wealthy, [conservative, and religious] family, co-founders of the Massey-Harris farm-machinery company, [Lawren Harris enjoyed many privileges]. Freed from the necessity of making a living, he could concentrate on his painting [and, at the age of nineteen, travelled toGermanyStudio Building in Toronto , providing artists with [a place to] live and work. [This allowed the artists to work together and share ideas, thus bringing them together.] In addition, Harris organized the first of the famed boxcar trips to Algoma. Fellow group member A.Y. Jackson claimed: "Without Harris there would have been no Group of Seven. He provided the stimulus; it was he who encouraged us to always take the bolder course, to find new trails." where he studied for three years. Apart from his travels,] [h]is financial independence allowed him to make several important and practical contributions to the development of the Group [of Seven]. In 1913, with his friend Dr. James MacCallum, he financed the construction of the still existing

In 1921, Harris and Jackson went to the North Shore of Lake Superior where Harris [encountered] a stark and bare landscape well suited to the new direction in his art, sparked by his interest in Theosophy and his search for a deeper spiritual meaning. In his life and in his painting Harris displayed an inclination toward the intellectual and the spiritual. [He was] fascinated by the Theosophical concept of an essential and universal truth and oneness of all nature. He wrote:

The artist moves slowly but surely through many transitions toward a deeper and more universal expression. From his particular love, and in the process of creating from it, he is led inevitably to universal qualities and toward a universal vision and understanding.1

The last half of his painting career was devoted to an exploration of the abstract based on his beliefs. Harris died in 1970 and was buried among other Group of Seven artists in a cemetery on the grounds of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection.2

1Bess Harris and R. G. P. Colgrove, eds., Lawren Harris (Toronto: Macmillan, 1969) 39.

2 Megan Bice, "Lawren Harris," The McMichael Canadian Art Collection (Kleinburg: The McMichael Canadian Art Collection, 1989) 49.


© 2006, McMichael Canadian Art Collection. All Rights Reserved.

Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven

In the early decades of the twentieth century, circumstances brought together several artists who were committed to exploring, through art, the unique character of the Canadian landscape. Collectively, they agreed that the country's rugged wilderness regions needed to be recorded in a distinctive painting style that broke with European tradition and reflected an increasingly nationalistic sentiment. Today, these men have become the most famous amongst Canadian artists, and are renowned for their contribution to Canadian art.

In their early careers many of the artists who would later form the Group of Seven were employed at commercial design firms. It was while working at Grip Limited that Tom Thomson, J.E.H. MacDonald, Arthur Lismer, Frederick Varley, Frank Johnston, and Franklin Carmichael first met and discovered their common artistic interests. The artists began taking weekend sketching trips together, and would often gather at the Arts and Letters Club inToronto to socialize and discuss new directions for Canadian art.

In 1913 Lawren Harris convinced A.Y. Jackson to move to Toronto from Montre Read More
Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven

In the early decades of the twentieth century, circumstances brought together several artists who were committed to exploring, through art, the unique character of the Canadian landscape. Collectively, they agreed that the country's rugged wilderness regions needed to be recorded in a distinctive painting style that broke with European tradition and reflected an increasingly nationalistic sentiment. Today, these men have become the most famous amongst Canadian artists, and are renowned for their contribution to Canadian art.

In their early careers many of the artists who would later form the Group of Seven were employed at commercial design firms. It was while working at Grip Limited that Tom Thomson, J.E.H. MacDonald, Arthur Lismer, Frederick Varley, Frank Johnston, and Franklin Carmichael first met and discovered their common artistic interests. The artists began taking weekend sketching trips together, and would often gather at the Arts and Letters Club inToronto to socialize and discuss new directions for Canadian art.

In 1913 Lawren Harris convinced A.Y. Jackson to move to Toronto from Montreal. In that same year, Harris and J.E.H. MacDonald visited the Albright Art Gallery in Buffalo (later renamed the Albright-Knox Art Gallery) for an exhibition of Scandinavian paintings. The show supported their vision for a distinctly Canadian art. Lawren Harris was most responsible for the subsequent formation of the Group of Seven.

Tom Thomson's untimely death in 1917 was a great loss for the Canadian art world. Although he did not live to see the inaugural Group of Seven exhibition, Thomson's name became synonymous with the Group of Seven. His sketches and finished canvases sought to create a painting style more representative of the Canadian landscape and experience.

The seven founding members of the Group were Lawren S. Harris, J.E.H. MacDonald, Arthur Lismer, Frederick Varley, Frank Johnston, Franklin Carmichael, and A.Y. Jackson. Their first exhibition opened at the Art Gallery of Toronto (later renamed the Art Gallery of Ontario) in May 1920, marking an important moment in the history of Canadian art. It was the decision of these founding members to exhibit as the Group of Seven. To this day, when speaking of these talented artists the reference is always to the Group of Seven even though, over the years, there were actually ten members. Frank Johnston only exhibited in one of the 1920 exhibitions and, following his resignation from the Group, A.J. Casson was invited to join in 1926. In an effort to widen the geographical base away fromToronto, Edwin Holgate of Montreal was asked to join in 1930. Although L.L. FitzGerald of Winnipeg joined the Group in 1932, the final Group of Seven exhibition was held in 1931.

The Group of Seven's determination and their belief in Canadian culture was immensely influential in the years following the 1920 exhibition. That influence prevails to this day, and, for many, these artists have come to symbolize the concept of a distinctly Canadian identity.

© 2006, McMichael Canadian Art Collection. All Rights Reserved.

The Effects of Theosophy on the work of Lawren S. Harris. From: “Modern Art in Canada – The Beginnings” Modern and Abstract Painting in Canada, 1991

Lawren Harris... However, his increasingly abstract geometric forms were the expression of a spiritual belief. Harris was a Theosophist. Theosophy has influenced some of the most important abstract painters of our time - Malevich, Mondrian. This mystical philosophy holds that certain geometric forms such as the triangle have almost supernatural properties. That's why Harris took such care painting solitary mountains. They are triangles incarnate. Harris once observed, "Mountains to me are holy places. They mediate between this world and the realm beyond."

National Film Board of Canada/National Gallery of Canada

© 1991, Courtesy NFB/National Gallery of Canada. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

Lawren S. Harris  Mt. Lefroy Learning Object is designed for students and educators to meet the following objectives:
  • Learn about the artist and his contribution to Canadian art;
  • Explore themes in Canadian history and cultural heritage;
  • Establish links between art and cultural identity;
  • Learn about an important period in Canadian art and history, and its effect on the national identity;
  • Identify, research, and describe visual characteristics and themes found in Canadian art;
  • Discuss and analyze a work of art using principles of design and other artistic terminology, and classify a work of art by period, style, and subject matter;and
  • Identify the skills required in various visual arts and art-related careers.

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