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Lawren Stewart Harris

 (1885 - 1970)
Lawren Stewart Harris was active/lived in New Mexico, Ontario / Canada.  Lawren Harris is known for abstract landscape, genre and portrait painting.

Lawren Stewart Harris

Biography from the Archives of askART

Following are two biographies submitted by M.D. Silverbrooke.

Biography from McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg, Ontario
Lawren S. Harris (1885 - 1970)
Born in Brantford, Ontario, into a wealthy, conservative and religious family, co-founders of Massey-Harris, Lawren Harris enjoyed much privilege in his youth. This enabled him to concentrate on his painting.

At the age of nineteen he travelled to Germany, where he studied for three years. He returned home to serve in the army and taught musketry at Camp Borden, Ontario.

Following his discharge from the army, Harris organized the first of what were to become the famed boxcar trips to Algoma, Ontario. The last of these trips took place in 1921, when Harris and A.Y. Jackson went to the North Shore of Lake Superior. There, Harris encountered a stark and bare landscape - one that was ideally suited to the new direction of his work.

Harris is credited with being most responsible for the formation of the Group of Seven. As 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."

Harris's art reflected his interest in Theosophy and Biology and his search for deeper spiritual meaning.

Lawren Harris is buried in the small cemetery on the McMichael gallery grounds.


Biography from The Canadian EncyclopediaThe Canadian Encyclopedia Second Edition (1988), edited by James H. Marsh; Hurtig Publishers Ltd., Edmonton, Alberta

Lawren Stewart Harris, painter (b at Brantford, Ont 23 Oct 1885; d at Vancouver 29 Jan 1970). Catalyst and leader in the creation of the Group of Seven*, founding member and first president of the Canadian Group of Painters*, and the painter who influenced Jock Macdonald, and through him other Toronto painters, to paint abstractly.  Harris had a profound influence on three generations of art in Canada.

Harris's father was Thomas Morgan Harris, the secretary of the A. Harris, Son and Co Ltd, a manufacturer of farm machinery which in 1891 amalgamated with Massey to form the Massey-Harris Co Ltd: Lawren Harris was thus a rich man. After attending Toronto's St Andrews College, Harris went to U of Toronto where he was encouraged by his mathematics professor to study art in Berlin. After 4 years of study (1904-08), Harris returned to Canada.

In 1908 he went on a sketching trip to the Laurentians; in 1909, with J.W. Beatty; he sketched in Haliburton. That fall he went to Lac-Memphrémagog, Qué. At the same time, he drew and painted houses in downtown Toronto; by the winter of 1911-12, he was sketching with J.E.H. MACDONALD and had become friendly with Tom Thomson. In 1913, Harris and MacDonald visited and were inspired by an exhibition of Contemporary Scandinavian Art at the Albright Art Gallery (now the Albright-Knox) in Buffalo.

By the early 1920s, when the Group of Seven was formed, Harris had developed into a magnificent landscape painter, transforming the powerful forms of nature into works of force and elegance such as Above Lake Superior (c 1924) and Maligne Lake (1924). In these and other paintings he reduced the shapes of mountains, shoreline, trees, lakes and clouds, always parallel to the picture plane, to their essentials for an austere, monumental effect.

He painted for five successive autumns in Algoma and Lake Superior (1917-22), in the Rockies from 1924 on, and in the Arctic in 1930. As artist-in-residence at Darmouth Coll, NH, he moved progressively through drawing into nonobjective art. In Santa Fe, NM, he worked with Dr. Emil Bisttram, leader of the Transcendental Group of Painters, which Harris also helped found in 1939.

His Vancouver work (1940-70) continued to explore abstraction inspired by the rhythms of nature. Harris's belief in theosophy is intimately linked to his development as a nonobjective artist. Through abstract paintings, such as Abstract Painting No 20, many of which use forms from landscape, he sought to portray a binding and healing conception of the universe - to make the sublime visual. His paintings have been criticized as being cold, but in fact they reflect the depth of his spiritual involvement. His world view makes him unique among Canadian painters, although his philosophy kept him aloof from spontaneously created art - a crucial factor in later painters' abstraction. Nevertheless, his landscape paintings, such as Lake and Mountains (1927-28) and some of his abstractions, are among the icons of Canadian art.

In his own lifetime Harris was the subject of 2 retrospectives, in 1948 and 1963. In 1978 the Art Gallery of Ontario held an exhibition, "Urban Scenes and Wilderness Landscapes, 1906-1930". In 1982-83 a national travelling exhibition of his drawings was held. The bulk of his work is found in the National Gallery of Canada, Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Mc Michael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg, Ont. In Nov 1987, a 1929 sketch for Mountains in Snow: Rocky Mountain Paintings, No. VII sold for $150 000, a record for a Canadian sketch. In the spring of 1999, a Lawren Harris canvas, Lake Superior III, was sold for $960 000 plus the buyer's premium of 10%, setting a record for the sale of a Canadian painting.

Author Joan Murray


Biography from Mayberry Fine Art
Lawren Harris was born in Brantford, Ontario.  At the age of 19, he went overseas to Berlin for academic training.  Upon returning to Ontario he met J.E.H. MacDonald, who shared his vision of a new and distinctive way of depicting the Canadian landscape.  Harris became the driving force behind the Group of Seven*.  A.Y. Jackson claimed, "Without Harris there would have been no Group of Seven.  He provided the stimulus; it was he who encouraged us always to take the bolder course, to find new trails."

By 1918 Harris had traveled to the Algoma region on the west side of Lake Michigan in the company of MacDonald and Johnston.  Harris made his first trip to the North Shore of Lake Superior in 1921.  His search for a deeper spiritual meaning eventually took him to the stark landscapes of the far north.  By the late 1920s, the artist's work strove to capture the spiritual essence of the bold landforms of the Rockies and the Arctic.

Throughout the ensuing decade Harris continued to simplify and abstract his landscapes until his subjects became non-representational. Harris worked as a member of the Transcendental Group* of Painters 8 in Santa Fe, New Mexico for two years, returning to Canada in 1940 and settling in Vancouver for the remainder of his lifetime.

* For references for these terms and others, see AskART Glossary

Biography from National Gallery of Canada
"We are on the fringe of the great North and its living whiteness, its loneliness and replenishment, its resignations and release, tis call and answer, its cleansing rhythms. It seems that the top of the continent is a source of spiritual flow that will ever shed clarity into the growing race of America."
(Lawren S. Harris, 1926)

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.

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.

At the Arts and Letters Club in Toronto Harris met other artists with similar nationalist concerns. In 1920 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's 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.

Courtesy of  the National Gallery of Canada -

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About  Lawren Stewart Harris

Born:  1885 - Brantford, Ontario, Canada
Died:   1970 - Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Known for:  abstract landscape, genre and portrait painting

Essays referring to
Lawren Stewart Harris

Impressionists Pre 1940