BlogMay 15, 2020

Visiting Lawren & Bess Harris

I never met LAWREN HARRIS. His wife Bess had taken charge of his business affairs although all his paintings had been incorporated in a trust for the benefit of his sons from his first wife. 

 

Walter Klinkhoff after his record breaking purchase of Lawren Harris' Gray Day, North Shore, Lake Superior XI, 1923 and Lake Superior Painting IX, 1923 at Walter Klinkhoff Gallery in 1974 (Photo: Montreal Star).  

  

Lawren Harris was a wealthy man and had built the famous Studio Building in Toronto for his friends Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven. Bess Harris was very money-oriented and I had to listen to the same stories every time I visited. She had to look after herself because the sons would inherit everything. The sketches were hers, Lawren had given them to her, four hundred of them. They had built a lovely house at Point Grey in Vancouver with a beautiful view over English Bay and the mountains beyond. When they were leaving Toronto, Lawren had wanted to burn all the sketches. They were heavy and bulky and there was at that time still no interest in them. Bess had salvaged them. When Bess heard about a high price having been paid somewhere that was the new price she demanded. There may have been several sold and only one at the high price, no matter, that was the price from then on.  The boom in Canadian art had not yet started and things were still tight and difficult.  At any rate, events proved her right.  By now some have been sold for over $100,000.  

 

The last time I visited, I had telephoned from Calgary after having been climbing with the Canadian Alpine Club in the Rockies.  There had been some correspondence and Bess Harris had written that she would sell me two sketches but would want very high prices. I had responded that I would come anyway and pay her price. Arriving at her house entirely for that purpose, she told me right away that her financial advisor had told her not to sell anything that year. She offered me some of the abstract canvases on the walls but these I did not want. My family was on holiday in Murray Bay and I was sorry I had gone to Vancouver instead of joining them. Lawren Harris was upstairs and she told me he was dying. We had tea and I left hoping still to catch a plane east.  Within a few months Bess Harris had died and her husband survived her by several years. 

 

Originally published in: Klinkhoff, Walter. Reminiscences of an Art Dealer. Montreal, Qc: s.n., 1993.

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