A Gift from my Sister in Canada

This is an oil by one of my favorite painters, the 20th century Canadian Lawren Harris. You don't see much of his work down here in the US, and that is a shame. He was one of a whole number of painters who absorbed some of the lessons of modernism in the early years of the last century. But while open to modernist thinkng, they were also committed plein air landscape painters. Calling themselves "The Group of Seven" they seem to catch a wave of Canadian nationalism and found broad acceptance in their own country.

The reason I'm aware of them at all is because my sister Kathy moved to Toronto in the late '60's and started sending me postcards of her favorite of the "7", Harris. At first I didn't care much for his work. In those years I was much more of a committed naturalist and valued layered surfaces and intricate textures.

Harris seemed a bit too geometric and simplistic, but my sister kept on sending a card or two a year and darn if the guy didn't start growing on me. Sometimes that happens.

Someone like Lawren Harris seems to me related to the US painters like Charles Burchfield, Georgia O'Keefe, Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton, and Rockwell Kent. All had a profound interest in powerful abstact composition and geometric solid form. All valued invention on the part of the artist to complete the vision they had developed.

The above painting of a pines reflecting in a pond has an incredible rhythm to it, as do the snow-laden branches of the tree in front of the orange house below.

Harris also has a deeply romantic, almost mystical side to his vision:

I grew up on the northern fringes of the US (my house was on the south shore of Lake Ontario, just southeast of Toronto. My mother had gone to school in Toronto and used to speak of it when I was little. I used to strain my eyes to try to see the tops of Toronto's skyscrapers). Canada had a fascination for me as a child. When, with my sister Kathy's insistence, I learned about Harris's work, that intrigue took on a painter's form.

Harris himself later in his life abandoned plein air painting in favor of a harder edged abstract painting. I've never cared for the direction his last works took. He eventually moved the US, ending up spending his last years in the American southwest. Looking at the vitality of his Canadian winter scenes, this is hard for me to fathom. But along with my crew of inspirations from US art history, Harris has proved an inspired source for my own painting.


  1. Love the top one. Harris is my favorite of the 7.

  2. Bernadette WaystackOctober 23, 2009 at 5:39 PM

    Just saw the O'Keefe Abstractions exhibit at the Whitney last week and definitely see the connection there.
    I see alot of Rockwell Kent in the last painting in your post. There was a show of Polar Art at a small museum north of Boston last year and work of his in it was very like this.
    I'd heard of the 7 but hadn't familiarized myself with them. Glad for the introduction

  3. Wow, how beautiful and mysterious. Thanks for the introduction.

  4. Hey, brother, true vision triumphs again. THanks for all the times we played in the snow and trees near the Great Waters we share with the U.S. The rhythm of the trees and water gets into your soul.
    Keep up painting by spirit: and the Great Spirit comes through.

    Kathy P.S. Thanks for the thanks.

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