This Week in History


Farewell to Famed International Painter Lawren S. Harris

For the week of Monday January 25, 2010

On January 29, 1970, the death of Lawren Stewart Harris shook the Canadian art world as it bid farewell to the famous former Group of Seven artist. Credited with the creation of the Group, Harris saw the beauty in Canadian wilderness and captured it in a new and distinctly Canadian painting style. A pioneer of this style, Harris showed the art world the great talent and unique expression that Canadian artists possessed.

Lawren S. Harris, 1885-1970
Untitled (Clouds, Lake Superior), 1923

© Ernest Mayer, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Accession #: G-56-16

Born in Brantford, Ontario, on October 23, 1885, Harris was often sick as a child and spent his time in bed drawing, painting and making Christmas cards for his family. In his adolescence he left his hometown to study philosophy and theosophy (religious philosophy), subjects that he would later try to incorporate in his artwork. Harris also studied in Berlin, Germany, from 1904 until 1908. When he returned to Canada, he began painting Toronto scenes with much detail and bright colours, one of the many styles he used throughout his career.

However, Harris soon noticed that Canadian artists lacked a uniquely Canadian style because the styles taught at the time were mainly European. In 1911, Harris met J. E. H. MacDonald, a man whose friendship would result in the creation of the Group of Seven, a group of Canadian artists famous for creating a distinct Canadian style of painting. While travelling across the continent with the Group, Harris became so entranced with Lake Superior’s North Shore that it was there that he developed one of his famous styles: rich and decorative colours applied in thick layers.


During the 1920s, Harris’ paintings became more simplified and abstract. He began using fewer colours and omitted specific details like flowers and animals. His scenes began to resemble three-dimensional geometric patterns. In 1940 Harris moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, by which time he had fully entered his abstract phase, creating his best-recognized painting style.


Today, Harris’ paintings are worth millions of dollars and continue to be appreciated by Canadian and international art patrons. A small cemetery at The McMichael Gallery, an Ontario art gallery devoted to the Group of Seven and other significant Canadian artists, is Harris’ final resting place.


Lawren S. Harris was designated a National Historic Person in 1970. A plaque honouring his achievements was erected in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1986. The Group of Seven was designated a National Historic Event in 1974.

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