Canadian Mosaic: Lawren Harris

Beaverbrook Art GalleryApril 25, 20170 Comments

Over the past few years, there has been increasing interest in the work of legendary Canadian painter Lawren S. Harris.  A founding member of the famed Group of Seven, Harris is widely known for his majestic landscapes of Canada’s crisp and pristine north. Critically acclaimed exhibitions such as The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris, curated by celebrity comedian Steve Martin in conjunction with the Art Gallery of Ontario, brought international attention to Harris’ work. Additionally, on November 23, 2016, Lawren Harris’ grand painting Mountain Forms, 1926, sold at auction for $11.2 million, breaking auction records and cementing a place for Lawren Harris in the international art market.

While Harris is widely known for these landscapes of the north, not everything he painted was this idyllic. Paintings such as Morning, c.1921, in the Beaverbrook Art Gallery’s collection, depict a much more candid and less idealized view of life in Canada. While Harris himself was living in an upscale district of Toronto during the 1920s, he was witness to the contrasting poverty and poor living conditions of the city’s core. The work Morning shows a worn-out home in an area known as the Ward, a neighbourhood in the area now near Toronto’s City Hall. The fence is old and tattered, missing boards and barely standing. Clothes hang on what appears to be a makeshift line strung from the window. In the distance, a cold dark smokestack can be seen towering over the central house. Harris’ own poetry from the time gives some insight into his perspective, including lines like:

Are you sad when you look down city lanes,
Lanes littered with ashes, boxes, cans, old rags;

Combined with his paintings, Harris’ poetry reveals his inclination to recognize the impoverished conditions in which many people lived. Indeed, it is a far cry from the bright and crisp mountain ranges that have brought him much fame and recognition. 

How do you read the painting? What other name would you give this artwork? Tell us in the comments below.

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