Lawren Harris
(1885-1970)

A founder and leading member of the Group of Seven, Lawren Harris is possibly the best-known Canadian artist of all time. An example of the importance of this major artist was evident in 2015 when comedian, musician, actor, writer and noted art collector Steve Martin curated the career retrospective exhibition “The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris” at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles; the show subsequently traveled to the Art Gallery of Ontario during the summer of 2016.

Born in Brantford, Ontario, an heir of the Massey-Harris industrialist family, Harris studied in Berlin before becoming friends with J.E.H. MacDonald in 1911 and eventually starting the Group of Seven. In addition to financing the construction of a studio building in Toronto where artists could live and work for free, Harris also paid for boxcar rail trips to the Algoma region for the Group of Seven artists to paint in the wilderness together. His goal for the Group of Seven was to create a vision for a home grown Canadian art, born of the land. As his own painting style matured, he developed a simplified, abstracted style that he applied to images of the mountains and coastal areas he visited across North America. Some of his best and most important works derive from his two-month long visit to the Arctic in 1930. Though remembered for the landscape works he contributed to the Group of Seven, Harris focused on abstract paintings from 1940 until his death in Vancouver in 1970. He is buried on the grounds of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario. Sales of his works at auction repeatedly set record prices for Canadian paintings; in 2015, his painting “Mountain and Glacier” sold for $3.9 million.

Harris’ remarkable use of light, composition, and abstraction can be seen in the five works he produced with Sampson-Matthews for the wartime silkscreen art program and afterward. “Maligne Lake” from 1944 is based on his painting of the same name from 1924, now in the National Gallery of Canada. It reveals an artist at the peak of his power and marks the artist’s growing interest in abstracted form as a tool for interpreting the Canadian landscape. “Algoma Country”, first printed by Sampson-Matthews in 1947, offers an iconic fall season representation of the trips Harris organised for the members of the Group of Seven to this highly symbolic region.