In the foreground of this painting, three dead trees stand erect in front of brownish rocky masses. Beyond, the horizon line separates the blue sky layered in white and grey clouds from the smooth surface of the darker blue lake.

Lawren S. Harris

(Brantford, Ontario, 1885 – Vancouver 1970)

 

Lake Superior

about 1924

Oil on canvas

101.7 x 127.3 cm

Bequest of Charles S. Band, 1970

Art Gallery of Ontario, 69/121

© Estate of Lawren S. Harris


Lawren S. Harris set himself apart from the rest of the Group of Seven with works like Lake Superior, simplifying his compositions and schematically refining the elements of his northern landscapes. The mountains and clouds are suggested by plays of curves, while the bare trees call to mind solitary beings contemplating an uncluttered landscape. This leaning toward abstraction distanced Harris from national identity concerns and brought his work closer to a more personal, mystical concept. In fact, he was a follower of theosophy (a philosophical system based on a belief in divine knowledge), which especially influenced his late geometric abstractions.


Lawren S. Harris’s interest in spiritual matters did not prevent him from relying on the National Gallery of Canada to promote his art from a national perspective. In 1924, the year he painted Lake Superior, a vast colonial exhibition was held at Wembley, near London in England. The National Gallery included works by Harris and other Group of Seven members in its large contribution, incurring the wrath of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, which had been excluded from the selection process. This was just one episode in the conflict that pitted the Academy’s conservatism against the modernist inclinations of the Gallery’s administrators.

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