Welcome to a new feature of my blog, Monday’s Muse, where I explore the work of an artist or other creative that delights me. This week I want to share with you the work of Lawren Harris.
Red House, Winter
I am absolutely in love with this painting. Though I’m generally not all that crazy about urban scenes, the way this little gem juxtaposes crisp light with warm red just cheers my heart. The dramatic color scheme and brilliant light are anchored by the snow-draped trees in the foreground. The path to the house is blocked by snow, and the line of the fence reinforces a certain inaccessibility, which heightens the mystery of and yearning for the warmth of the red house.
Lawren Harris (1885-1970) was one of the founding members of The Group of Seven, a collective of Canadian painters now famous for their brilliant paintings of the Canadian landscape. He was born into a wealthy Canadian family, and after college studied painting in Berlin four years in his early adulthood. He worked for a short period of time as a magazine illustrator and in 1916 he joined the army. He served for two years but the death of his close friend and fellow painter Tom Thompson, followed by his older brother, who was killed in action, proved to be too much. He suffered a nervous breakdown, was discharged, and spent a year recovering, immersing himself in painting and studying Theosophy. He worked as a painter for the rest of his life.
Remember that “studied in Berlin” part? The goal of The Group of Seven was to create a distinctively Canadian style of painting, one that was rooted in the experience of the Canadian landscape. Before this time, Canadian artists had merely emulated European painting, something I’m pretty certain Harris studied in Berlin. This emulation is demonstrated—beautifully—in his painting “Hurdy Gurdy,” which he painted in the post-impressionist style in 1913.
Beaver Swamp, Algoma
“Art is long. Life is short. A picture can become for us a highway between a particular thing and a universal feeling.” —Lawren Harris
Above Lake Superior
First Snow, North Shore of Lake Superior
Following his period of grief over the deaths of his friend and brother, Harris, along with fellow artist E. H. MacDonald, financed boxcar trips for the emerging Group of Seven to the Algoma region (northeastern Ontario) and the North Shore of Lake Superior. And it was Lake Superior that struck a chord of brilliance within Harris and inspired him to create his own distinctive style, which was decidedly more somber and stark.
Afternoon Sun, Lake Superior
Before my research for this post I was not aware of Lawren Harris’ fascination with Lake Superior, which intrigues me—I share his deep appreciation and spiritual curiosity about this place. His work was also shaped by his growing spiritual awareness, cultivated by Theosophy.
The following is quoted from his talk “Theosophy and Art”, which I found on this website.
“There is a phase of truth that does not receive the attention it deserves in our day.
A phase that is essential to the inner balance, to the vision and understanding of man.
A phase of truth that should permeate all action, all thought, all feeling and aspiration.
That phase of truth is beauty.
Lacking it as a power at work in our hearts, we tend to become dogmatic, moral-istic and rigid, and are in danger of setting ourselves up as judges of our fellow men.
From the North Shore of Lake Superior
Unfortunately, beauty is something that many of us seem loth to discuss, or to ponder sufficiently. Perhaps because it is so intangible, so difficult to get its mean-ings into precise language; or perhaps be-cause, like many another phase of truth in our day, it has been forced aside by the stridency of life; or because it has been carnalized and perverted to acquisitive and selfish ends, or made to serve the sentiment-ality, the lush weakness of the personal man.
Bylot Island, South Shore
But beauty is an indissoluble part of all that we consider high, worthy and divine.
And it comes to focus on earth for man, in the arts.
For the arts epitomize, intensify and clarify the experience of beauty for us, as nothing else can.
Figure with Rays of Light
I leave you with the magnificent “Figure with Rays of Light,” which Harris painted after a trip to the Arctic with fellow Group of Seven member A. Y. Jackson. I hope Harris’ brilliance inspires you to contemplate the beauty within yourself and the world we share.
You can see more of Harris’ work, as well as many other artists, on my “Artists I Adore” Pinterest board: