BlogJanuary 27, 2017

Historic Sale Features Lawren Harris’ First Major Canvas of Downtown Toronto Housing

A Row of Houses, Wellington Street, 1910, Lawren Harris' "first public expression of his commitment to the look and feel of Canada in his art."

Lawren Harris' iconic painting, A Row of Houses, Wellington Street, 1910, is among the works featured in our April 1 sale, Lawren Harris & Canadian Masters: Historic Sale Celebrating Canada's 150 Years. (All works are subject to prior sale. Contact us for purchase inquiries.) The documentary below was produced by the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) in 1981 following the critical 1978 exhibition Lawren Harris: Urban Scenes and Wilderness Landscapes 1906-1930, curated by Dr. Jeremy Adamson. In this video, beginning at about 5:15, one finds extensive discussion about A Row of Houses, Wellington Street, 1910 (referred to as Old Houses, Wellington Street). In new research for Alan Klinkhoff Gallery to be published soon, Dr. Adamson describes A Row of Houses, Wellington Street as "the artist’s earliest public expression of his commitment to the look and feel of Canada in his art." He notes on the back of a retained section of the original stretcher is the inscription, Street Painting I.


[select transcript] The urban scene was to become one of the artists two major themes. Harris would remain fascinated with the design possibilities of row houses, of the fences, shacks, yards in alleyways of working-class neighbourhoods such as the downtown ward district or it's suburban neighbourhood, Earlscourt. The regimented presentation of these houses on Adelaide Street prepares the way for Old Houses, Wellington Street, the artists' first major oil, painted in 1910.  Here, the repetitive, geometric order of the rows, of the doors and windows contrasts with the loose brush strokes among the tree branches. In this painting, Harris has actually interfered with nature. Notice the very unnatural way sunlight falls only on the middle houses as if some melody in the artists' mind is sensed a crescendo and then a fade out. When in Berlin perhaps Harris heard that the great German poet Goethe had once described architecture as frozen music. It seems as if the compositional devices in Harris' cityscapes are almost musical. The picture planes, the foreground, the row of houses, and the sky are stated as forcefully as dominant chords.  Then, the rhythm of row houses is broken up by a screen of foreground trees, which provide a counter rhythm. Across the surface planes, colours play with their harmonic opposites; red with green, blue with yellow...

A Row of Houses, Wellington Street is widely exhibited and its image extensively reproduced.  Its revised history will be published when Lawren Harris & Canadian Masters opens at our Toronto gallery.   The painting also enjoys a dedicated page and colour reproduction in Russell Harper's landmark anthology Painting in Canada: A History (1969: p. 271).





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