Lauren Harris – revelation

Lawren Stewart Harris, CC (October 23, 1885 – January 29, 1970) was a Canadian painter. He was born in Brantford, Ontario, and is best known as a member of the Group of Seven who pioneered a distinctly Canadian painting style in the early twentieth century. A. Y. Jackson has been quoted as saying that Harris provided the stimulus for the Group of Seven. During the 1920s, Harris’s works became more abstract and simplified, especially his stark landscapes of the Canadian north and Arctic. He also stopped signing and dating his works so that people would judge his works on their own merit and not by the artist or when they were painted.

In 1969, he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada.

Lawren Stewart Harris was born on October 23, 1885, to Thomas Morgan Harris (son of Alanson Harris) and Anna J. Stewart (daughter of pastor William Boyd Stewart) in Brantford, Ontario, into a wealthy family – the Harrises of the Massey-Harris industrialists. He attended Central Technical School and St. Andrew’s College. From age 19 (1904 to 1908) he studied in Berlin. He was interested in philosophy and Eastern thought. Later, he became involved in Theosophy and joined the Toronto Lodge of the International Theosophical Society. Lawren went on to marry Beatrice (Trixie) Phillips on January 20, 1910, and together had three children (Lawren P. Harris, Margaret Anne Harris) born in the first decade of their marriage. Soon after meeting and becoming friends with J. E. H. MacDonald in 1911, they together formed the famous Group of Seven. He financed the construction of a studio building in Toronto with friend Dr. James MacCallum. The Studio provided artists with cheap or free space where they worked.

In 1918 and 1919, Harris financed boxcar trips for the artists of the Group of Seven to the Algoma region, travelling along the Algoma Central Railway and painting in areas such as the Montreal River and Agawa Canyon. In the fall of 1921, Harris ventured beyond Algoma to Lake Superior’s North Shore, where he would return annually for the next seven years. While his Algoma and urban paintings of the late 1910s and early 1920s were characterized by rich, bright colours and decorative composition motifs, the discovery of Lake Superior subject material catalyzed a transition to a more austere, simplified style, with limited palettes – often jewel colours with a range of neutral tones. In 1924, a sketching trip with A.Y. Jackson to Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies marked the beginning of Harris’ mountain subjects, which he continued to explore with annual sketching trips until 1929, exploring areas around Banff National Park, Yoho National Park and Mount Robson Provincial Park. In 1930, Harris went on his last extended sketching trip, travelling to the Arctic aboard the supply ship SS. Beothic for two months, during which time he completed over 50 sketches. The resulting Arctic canvases that he developed from the oil panels marked the end of his landscape period, and from 1935 on, Harris enthusiastically embraced abstract painting. Several members of the Group of Seven later became members of the Canadian Group of Painters including Harris, A. J. Casson, Arthur Lismer, A. Y. Jackson, and Franklin Carmichael.

On January 20, 1910, Harris married Beatrice (Trixie) Phillips. The couple had three children. Harris later fell in love with Bess Housser, the wife of his school-time friend, F.B. Housser. Harris and Bess fell in love, but saw no way forward. For the two to divorce their spouses and marry would cause an outrage.

Harris eventually left his wife of 24 years, Trixie, and his three children, and married Bess Housser in 1934. He was threatened with charges of bigamy by Trixie’s family because of his actions. Later that year he and Bess left their home and moved to the United States. Then in 1940 they moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, where Harris entered his abstract phase. Bess died in 1969.

Harris died in Vancouver in 1970, at the age of 84, as a well-known artist. He was buried on the grounds of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, where his work is now held.

Lauren Harris Quotes

Art must take to the road and risk all for the glory of adventure.

Beauty is a living abiding presence completely untouchable by all the devices of man, such as moral codes, creeds, intellectual analysis, games and cliches, the acquisitive instinct, or lust for anything whatsoever.

I myself incline to drift, to accept a lesser situation rather than strive for a greater, and yet, I know that character in life and art is only made by an effort that is quite beyond one’s ordinary everyday acceptance of things as they are.

It requires courage to face and to conquer the immense weight of inertia and the dead and dying traditions and sophistications that clutter the minds of men and mould them into the mimicry of living ways…

The truth is that works of art test the spectator much more than the spectator tests them.

I need to get to work and disregard all the silly vagaries of personal feelings. Always somehow if one keeps working, something comes through.

In the inner place where true artists create there exists a pure child.