Peel back the layers of Lawren Harris’s artwork to reveal the inspiration behind
eight of his most prominent paintings.
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Lawren Harris 1925 c., Harris with Glace Bay canvas, collection of the Arts and Letters Club

Lawren Harris is one of the most influential artists in Canadian history. The co-founder of the legendary Group of Seven had a lifelong love affair with landscape that took him to the far reaches of the country and deep into the soul of the true north.

But who was the man behind the magic paintbrush? Why was he able to see beauty and majesty where others saw a cold and barren land? And how did he transform his paintings from mere ideas to masterpieces?

I’m in great need of losing my littleness, and sharing completely in the life of the universe in water and skies and land and light.- Lawren Harris, 1930

This site explores four elements—LAND, WATER, LIGHT, and SKY—as they appear in Lawren Harris’s most prominent paintings. Scroll to peel back the layers and reveal the sketches, early paintings, and photographs that led to the creation of eight of his most prominent paintings.

LAND

Northern landscapes inspired Lawren Harris more than any other subject matter throughout his lifetime. His fascination with the north started in January, 1913, when he took a trip to Buffalo, New York to see an exhibition of modern Scandinavian art. Here, Harris encountered the bold and colourful winter scenes of Harold Solhberg, Gustav Fjaestad, and more. The experience planted a seed within Lawren Harris that would grow into a national artistic movement. When he returned to Toronto, Harris shifted his focus northward, moving away from urban spaces and seeking out creative possibilities and forms of expression that were implicitly Canadian.

Scroll to uncover the early paintings that evolved into two Lawren Harris landscapes

Isolation Peak, Rocky Mountains

YEAR
1930
MEDIUM
Oil on canvas
Dimensions
106.7 x 127 cm
COLLECTION
Hart House Permanent Collection
Justina M. Barnicke Gallery

Eskimo Tent
Pangnirtung
Baffin Island

YEAR
1930
MEDIUM
Oil on board
Dimensions
30.5 x 38.1 cm
COLLECTION
The Thomson Collection
Art Gallery of Ontario
WATER

Lawren Harris’s art was largely influenced by Canadian bodies of water. In 1918, he organized a trip with select members of the Group of Seven to Algoma, a district in Northeast Ontario. The trip resulted in some of Harris’s earliest landscapes as he sought to capture the colour and vibrancy of the region’s countless lakes and rivers. Compared to the hustle and bustle of capitalist Toronto, Algoma was a breath of fresh air. Harris would eventually travel further north to Lake Superior, the Arctic and west to the Rocky Mountains, finding inspirational and beautiful subjects all along the way.

Scroll to reveal the early sketches that evolved into two water-inspired Lawren Harris paintings

Ice House, Coldwell, Lake Superior

YEAR
ca. 1923
MEDIUM
Oil on canvas
Dimensions
94.1 × 114.1 cm
COLLECTION
Art Gallery of Hamilton

Mount Robson from Northeast

YEAR
ca. 1929
MEDIUM
Oil on board
Dimensions
30 x 37.5 cm
COLLECTION
The Thomson Collection
Art Gallery of Ontario
LIGHT

Light plays a vital role in some of Lawren Harris’s most famous paintings. It pours down from the clouds, reflects off the water, and gleams from snow-capped mountains, making his work feel both material and mystical. Around 1920, Harris joined the International Theosophical Society, which led him to question the origins of the universe, seeking out ecstasy, transcendence, and enlightenment. In theosophy, the white light of Divine Knowledge is an important central concept, and as Harris searched for what he called “a new expression in art,” light became an increasingly dramatic element in his artwork.

Scroll to illuminate the photos and early paintings that evolved into two light-inspired works by Lawren Harris

Mt. LeFroy

YEAR
1930
MEDIUM
Oil on canvas
Dimensions
133.5 x 153.5 cm
COLLECTION
The McMichael Canadian Art Collection

Pic Island

YEAR
ca. 1924
MEDIUM
Oil on canvas
Dimensions
123.3 x 153.9 cm
COLLECTION
The McMichael Canadian Art Collection
SKIES

Expansive skyscapes are featured in a number of Lawren Harris’s influential paintings. In 1924, he took his family on a trip to Jasper, Alberta, traveling through what is referred to today as Big Sky Country. Here, he discovered the Canadian Rockies with its ruggedly dramatic skylines. Sometimes warm and welcoming, other times cool and distant, Harris’s skies communicate complex human emotions, exploring ideas of divinity, universality, and spiritual transcendence. Harris strived to capture the essence of a moment in his paintings, and this desire is clearly evident in his exploration of the sky.

Scroll to uncover the early paintings that evolved into two Lawren Harris skyscapes

Lake and Mountains

YEAR
1928
MEDIUM
Oil on canvas
Dimensions
130.8 x 160.7 cm
COLLECTION
Art Gallery of Ontario

Lake Superior

YEAR
ca. 1923
MEDIUM
Oil on canvas
Dimensions
111.8 x 126.9 cm
COLLECTION
The Thomson Collection, Art Gallery of Ontario

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