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Lawren S. Harris (aka Lawren Stewart Harris)


Painting No. 48
circa 1938-1941

Oil on masonite
26.125 x 31.25 x 1.5 in.
Gift of the Marie Eccles Caine Foundation

Relatively unknown in the United States, Lawren Stewart Harris was a leading figure in Canadian art during the first half of the twentieth century. His family was part of the Massey-Harris company, the largest manufacturer of agricultural equipment in the British Empire at the time, which gave him financial independence. He devoted himself entirely to painting, which evolved from an early impressionist style to an analytical abstraction informed by theosophy and transcendentalism.

Painting No. 48 is from a transition period in Harris’s career. Previously, he had been one of the founders of the Group of Seven, which, heavily influenced by theosophy, helped develop a distinctly Canadian art through direct contact with nature. He relocated to Taos, New Mexico, in 1938 to join a group of painters dedicated to a spiritual form of abstraction. While Painting No. 48 evokes the specific locale of Taos and its surrounding mountains, its austere geometry conveys the more abstract terrestrial and spiritual elements of the landscape. Here Harris adopted a refined color palette and varied his treatment of the viscous oil paint. He applied thick layers for the sun and its rays, but maintained a thin layer elsewhere, revealing the textured surface of the masonite support.

In 1940 Harris settled in Vancouver, a move that marked the end of his landscape career. He continued to represent the visible world, imbuing his imagery with spiritual values but holding steadfast to an experimental abstract sensibility. However, his idealized landscapes of the cold and empty northland, filled with isolated mountain peaks, barren shorelines, and dark expanses of water, remain central to the nation’s visual identity today.

Rebecca A. Dunham

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