100 Years of the Group of Seven - Lawren Stewart Harris

Posted by Tom Thomson Art Gallery | Sep 18, 2020
Thank you to our guest blogger, the Staff at the Tom Thomson Art Gallery (The TOM), for sharing these stories.

We are pleased to present the fifth installment in this series of guest posts celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Group of Seven.  Stay tuned over the next several weeks as each member of the Group of Seven is featured.

On May 7, 1920, seven Canadian artists held their first exhibition as the Group of Seven at the then Art Gallery of Toronto, now the Art Gallery of Ontario. One hundred years later their names - Carmichael, Harris, Jackson, Johnston, Lismer, MacDonald, Varley - continue to conjure visions of the rugged Canadian landscape. They were bound by their desire to record the Canadian geography in a new and distinctive way. They shunned prevailing European painting conventions and honed a fresh style that has become uniquely recognizable, capturing the character of the true north, strong and free.

Featured Artist: Lawren Stewart Harris

Lawren Harris was born into a wealthy Canadian family that co-owned Massey-Harris Co. Ltd, a farm machinery company. Gifted at sketching from an early age, he studied art in Berlin from 1904 to 1907, before returning to Toronto. His first paid artworks consisted of illustrations for Harper’s Magazine and Mayfair magazine. In 1911, he exhibited his first paintings, which consisting of urban street scenes in an impoverished part of the City known as The Ward. During this period, he also became an early member of the Arts and Letters Club, a private men’s club for creative individuals in Toronto who were passionate about the arts. It was there that he became friends with future Group of Seven member, J.E.H. MacDonald. In 1913, the two men attended an exhibition of Scandinavian art in Buffalo, New York, which significantly influenced the direction of their work. Over the next few years, Harris met the remaining artists who would later form the Group and helped finance the construction of the Studio Building to provide them with a collegial workspace.

Lawren Harris, Toronto House, sround 1912. Graphite on Japanese wove paper. Gift of the Estate of Jennings David Young, 1999.

Harris is largely recognized as the founder and leader of the Group of Seven. He, along with A.Y. Jackson, became advocates for the Group by writing letters to the National Gallery of Canada about what they saw as the Gallery’s neglect of original Canadian art. This prompted the Gallery Chair to visit the Studio Building and eventually become a staunch supporter by purchasing many of their paintings. Between 1918 and 1920, Harris arranged long sketching trips to Algoma for himself and his fellow artists. They travelled by boxcars that were outfitted to act as studios on wheels and the resulting paintings were shown in the very first Group of Seven exhibition in 1920. 

Lawren Harris, Pic Island, 1925, oil on canvas. Gift of the Estate of Jennings David Young, 1999.

Throughout his life Harris continued to paint the north shore of Lake Superior, the Rocky Mountains and the Canadian Arctic. Influenced by the tenants of Theosophy (a 19th century occult movement), he was convinced that art must express not only the physical, but spiritual side of nature. To achieve this, his painterly focus turned increasingly towards abstraction.

Lawren Harris, Above Lake Superior, date unknown, oil on wood panel. Bequest of Norah de Pencier, 1974.

Fun Fact:  Two of Harris’ paintings are among the five most valuable Canadian artworks ever sold at auction.

The TOM’s Group of Seven Exhibit

Galleries across the nation will be featuring the finest from their collections from the Group. At the The Tom in Owen Sound, the Gallery is showcasing the Gallery’s impressive collection. A new exhibition, “The View from Here”, will take visitors on a visual tour across the country as experienced by the Group. Beyond the captivating artworks, the accompanying texts will explore the unique connections between the members of the Group and Owen Sound, the legacy of community donors, and the importance of the Gallery’s collection within the larger Group of Seven story. “The View from Here” offers an intimate, local perspective on the artists that helped shape the Nation.  The exhibition runs until January 29, 2021.

Stay tuned over the next few weeks as, in this series of guest posts from the Tom Thomson Art Gallery, each member of the Group of Seven is celebrated and several of their works, which are featured in the Gallery’s new exhibition “The View From Here”, are highlighted.

The Tom Thomson Art Gallery Is Open to the Public

In order to protect the health of visitors and staff, a limited number of visitors will be permitted inside the Gallery to 10 people at a time, to allow for physical distancing. This new visitor limit may also mean that when you visit the Gallery you may be asked to wait in line. Additionally, to accommodate new cleaning and health precautions, the Gallery will be reopening with limited hours – Wednesday to Saturday, 12pm - 4pm. Please remember to be patient with staff during this time, as new protocols are being implemented to ensure the safety of everyone.  
Note: All visitors are required to wear face coverings (masks) in indoor spaces, including The TOM.

An easy way to remember The TOM’s new attendance limit is “Bring Your Groups of Seven”. Throughout their time the members of the Group changed but their number always stayed below 10, so call your Carmichael, Harris, Jackson, Johnston, Lismer, MacDonald, and Varley and tell them you’re going to The TOM!

For more information about The TOM, visit their website.

Read other blog posts in the series about the Group of Seven: