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Lawren S. Harris, C.C., LL.D. (1885-1970)
A Row of Houses, Wellington Street (Street Painting I), 1910
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Galerie Alan Klinkhoff - Lawren S. Harris, C.C., LL.D. (1885-1970)
LAWREN S. HARRIS, C.C., LL.D. (1885-1970)
A Row of Houses, Wellington Street (Street Painting I), 1910
Oil on canvas 25" x 30"
Signed and dated LSH ‘10 (recto, lower right)
Inscribed Street Painting I (verso, on original stretcher piece)
Also exhibited as Old Houses, Wellington Street, Houses, Wellington Street, Houses, Wellington Street, Winter.
The Artist;
Bess Harris (Mrs. Lawren S. Harris);
L.S.H Holdings, Ltd;
Laing Galleries, Toronto;
The Art Emporium, Vancouver, 1976;
Private Collection, Montreal.
39th Exhibition, Ontario Society of Artists, Toronto, 1911, no. 88;
Canadian National Exhibition, Toronto, 1911, no. 137;
Royal Canadian Academy Exhibition, Winnipeg, 1912, no. 79;
Retrospective Loan Exhibition of the Works of Members of the Ontario Society of Artists, 1922, Toronto, no. 77;
Lawren Harris Paintings, 1910-1948, Toronto, Art Gallery of Toronto, 1948, no. 1;
Lawren Harris Retrospective Exhibition 1963, Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada, no. 1
The Group of Seven/Le Groupe des Sept, Ottawa: The National Gallery of Canada, 1970, no. 23;
Lawren S. Harris: Urban Scenes and Wilderness Landscapes, 1906-1930, 1978, Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, no. 17.
Notes on Pictures at the O.S.A. Exhibition [1911], n.p.;
J. Russell Harper, Painting in Canada: A History, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1969, repr. in colour, p. 271;
Bess Harris and R.G.P. Cosgrove, eds., Lawren Harris, Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1969,
repr. in colour, pl. 136;
Dennis Reid, The Group of Seven/Le Groupe des Sept, Ottawa: The National Gallery of Canada, 1970, p. 56, repr. pl. 23;
Peter Cummings, "Vancouver: Lawren Harris, The Art Emporium, November 1-23, 1976," Artscanada 33:4 (December 1976 - January 1977), repr. p.60;
Jeremy Adamson, Lawren S. Harris: Urban Scenes and Wilderness Landscapes, 1906-1930, Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 1978, p. 29; 31, repr. pl. 27;
Peter Larisey, S.J., Light for a Cold Land: Lawren Harris’s Work and Life — An Interpretation, Toronto & Oxford: Dundurn Press, 1993, pp. 22-23;
John Murray, Lawren Harris: An Introduction to His Life and Art, Toronto: Firefly Books, 2003, p. 15-16, repr. in colour, p. 17;
David Silcox, The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson, Toronto: Firefly Books, 2003, repr. in colour. 137;
Paul Duval, Lawren Harris: Where the Universe Sings, Toronto: Cerebrus Publishing, 2011, p. 50, repr. in colour, p. 51;
Jason McBride, "The Mystic," Toronto Life Magazine, (July, 2016), p. 48, repr. in color, p. 49.
  More about this painting  
A Row of Houses, Wellington Street is Lawren Harris’ first major canvas depicting downtown Toronto housing. Signed and dated “L S H ’10” on the face of the picture, a faint inscription on the back of the original stretcher, retained and now attached to the current one reads “Street Painting I.” The site can be identified. On the city’s 1880 fire insurance map, the row of six adjoined, two-and-half story brick dwellings was named “St Catharine’s Terrace” and was located on the north side of Wellington Street West between Dorset and John Streets. The units appear on later maps of St. Andrew’s Ward though 1910. On the adjacent block to the west, only wooden row housing and individual brick structures were constructed, while the 1879 terraced brick housing built on the north side of Clarence Square further to the west were all uniform in architectural style, each with a mansard roof and projecting bay.

The original houses were erected in a fashionable neighbourhood, adjacent to the spacious grounds of the old Provincial Parliament Buildings, the elegant Second Empire-style Government House and to the north, Upper Canada College. However, by 1910 the school had moved to its current site and the 1832 legislature had been demolished and replaced by the rail yards of the Grand Trunk Railway. Five years later, both Government House and Harris’ row of six houses had themselves been torn down for further railroad expansion. Nonetheless, in 1910 the dwellings were solidly middle class, unlike the substandard buildings which housed poor, working-class immigrants living in “the Ward” a few blocks to the north in the rundown neighbourhood Harris focused his attention on afterwards. He was drawn to seedy urban areas as a student in Berlin during 1903-07, sketching dreary slum housing.

A Row of Houses, Wellington Street established the layered compositional format Harris would employ for the majority of his Toronto house pictures painted in the 1910s and early 1920s. The facades of these residences are placed parallel to the picture plane and, like many of his later oil sketches and paintings, are fronted by city street trees that provide tall, vertical elements that integrate the zone of the sky with that of the buildings below. Like the Post-Impressionist art he had admired as a student in Europe, Harris deliberately flattened there picture’s overall design and simplified the representational components. The brushwork is emphatic: the architectural details are “constructed” with individual strokes, while the bare tree branches and blue sky beyond are part of an energetic web of irregular strokes. A horse-drawn sleigh is visible behind tree trunks on the left, but there is no human action in the picture: the buildings and their physical setting remain the material subject.

However, Harris imbued his picture with extra-aesthetic meaning. When it was first exhibited in the 1911 Ontario Society of Artists show, it was accompanied by another of his early Toronto streetscapes, Along Melinda Street. In the official pamphlet accompanying the exhibition, the artist described his intentions in the Wellington Street picture: “the endeavour was to depict the clear, hard sunlight of a Canadian noon in winter. An attempt was also made to suggest the spirit of old York [Toronto].” By contrast, Along Melinda Street was a dark, dramatic winter composition that aimed “to suggest the movement of a snow storm — the way it swirls around things and gets into every nook and opening. . . .” In both pictures, the subject is a Canadian winter — an early, if implicit, indication of the centrality of the North in his art. Moreover, by evoking “the spirit of old York” in A Row of Houses, Wellington Street, he further confirmed his newfound enthusiasm for local, specifically Canadian subject matter.

According to his wife Bess, when Harris finally settled back in Toronto in 1909, “the quality and clarity of the light excited him.” This is clearly evident in the brilliantly lighted field of snow in the large foreground zone. However, the crisp sunshine of a winter noon does not illuminate the houses in the middle distance. The patchy light that plays over the facades is more poetic in character, helping to animate the scene and to guide the viewer’s visual experience of the picture. The first of a long line of major urban scenes by Lawren Harris, A Row of Houses, Wellington Street is historically significant not only as the original of a series, but as the artist’s earliest public expression of his commitment to the look and feel of Canada in his art.

Jeremy Adamson, PhD
From Lawren Harris & Canadian Masters, Alan Klinkhoff Gallery, 2017

Jeremy Adamson, PhD served as a curator of historical Canadian art at the Art Gallery of Ontario and the National Gallery of Canada. In 1978 he organized the exhibition Lawren S. Harris: Urban Scenes and Wilderness Landscapes, 1906—1930 and wrote the accompanying catalogue. After leaving Canada, he was senior curator at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Chief of the Prints and Photographs Division at the U.S. Library of Congress. He recently retired from the Library as Director for Collections and Services.
Lawren Harris Biography
Lawren Stewart Harris, a Canadian painter, was born October 23, 1885 in Brantford, Ontario. He was a key figure in the creation of the Group of Seven, also a founding member and first president of the Canadian Group of Painters. Harris also later became a leading abstractionist who believed that colour and form were capable of expressing spiritual truths. Coming from a wealthy family, he was able to devote himself entirely to his art.

 Related Pages

Lawren Harris studied in Berlin, Germany, from 1904 to 1908, where he became interested in theosophy, a mystical branch of religious philosophy that would influence his later painting. He then returned to Toronto. In 1908 he went on a sketching trip to the Laurentians; in 1909, with J.W. Beatty, he sketched in Haliburton. That fall he went to Lake Memphremagog. At the same time, he drew and painted street scenes of the older and more modest areas of Toronto.

Harris developed into a magnificent landscape painter, transforming the powerful forms of nature into works of force and elegance. In 1913, he financed the construction of the Studio Building in Toronto with his friend, Dr. James MacCallum. The Studio provided artists with cheap or free space where they could live and work. Later, in 1918 and 1919, Lawren Harris with J.E.H. MacDonald financed boxcar trips for the artists of the Group of Seven to the Algoma region. Another painting trip after Algoma was to Lake Superior North Shore with A.Y. Jackson. In 1920 Harris, J.E.H. MacDonald, Frank Hans Johnston, Franklin Carmichael, A.Y. Jackson, F.H. Varley, and Arthur Lismer founded the Group of Seven.

Harris was so passionate about the Lake Superior’s North Shore and fascinated by the theosophical concept of nature, he returned annually for the next seven years. There he developed the modernist style he is best known for. Harris’s paintings in the early 1920’s were characterized by rich, decorative colours that were applied thick, in painterly impasto. He painted landscapes around Toronto, Georgian Bay and Algoma.

During the 1920s, Harris’s works became more abstract and simplified, especially his stark landscapes of the Canadian north and Arctic. His first of three annual trips to the Rockies was in 1924. In 1930, Harris’s landscape paintings became even more simplified as he sailed to the Arctic with A.Y. Jackson aboard a supply ship.

From 1934 to 1937, Harris lived in Hanover, New Hampshire, where he painted his first abstract works, an artistic direction in which he would continue for the rest of his life. In 1938 he moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and helped found the Transcendental Painting Group, an organization of artists who advocated a spiritual form of abstraction.

Harris settled in Vancouver in 1940 and became a leading figure in the Vancouver arts community. He was a strong supporter of younger artists and of the Vancouver Art Gallery. In 1969 he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada.

He died in Vancouver on January 29th 1970.
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