This Week in History


Lawren S. Harris and His Original Landscapes

For the week of Monday October 20, 2003

On October 23, 1885, Lawren Stewart Harris was born in Brantford, Ontario. This talented artist became the leader of the Group of Seven that painted beautiful landscapes in a very distinctive style.

Algonquin Sketch (oil on panel 26.5 cm by 35 cm) 
© Tom Thomson Memorial Art Gallery, Owen Sound, Ontario

Harris grew up in a privileged Toronto  family, which held conservative and religious values. His family owned Massey‑Harris Co., a farm machinery manufacturer. In his youth, he had the chance to travel to Europe with his parents as well as study at St. Andrew’s College in Toronto and, later, the University of Toronto. In 1904, Harris studied fine art in Germany for four years.

In 1909, Harris returned to Canada with his new artistic knowledge. He was a changed man who marvelled at the beauty of his home country. Initially, he painted impressionist-inspired paintings of the houses in downtown Toronto. He also travelled around to draw landscapes. Two years later, he befriended with other artists, including J.E.H. MacDonald and Tom Thomson. He helped found some arts organizations, after which he decided to create a studio where he and his artist friends could work together to develop a truly Canadian artistic style. In 1913, he financed a large portion of the construction of the Studio Building in Toronto. The First World War somewhat delayed Harris' project but, finally, he and his artist friends gathered, with the exception of Tom Thomson, who died in 1917, to form the Group of Seven in 1919. His leadership qualities made Harris a chief figure in the Group.

Lawren Harris, member of the Group of Seven
© Library and Archives Canada / PA-125396

Throughout his life, his artistic style evolved tremendously. His paintings first depicted landscapes where nature was powerfully expressed. His work then became more and more abstract. Harris' very personal style makes him unique among Canadian painters. His primary source of inspiration was nature, which he considered to be inhabited by a divine force. He believed art must express spiritual values while reflecting the real world. When the Group of Seven disbanded in 1933, Harris moved to the United States. Upon his return to Canada in 1940, he settled in Vancouver, where his paintings became completely abstract. This passionate artist continued to paint until his death in 1970.

Lawren Stewart Harris was designated as a person of national historic significance in 1970.  

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