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From Berg Lake, Morning

From Berg Lake, Morning
signed and inscribed twice ‘Lawren Harris Sketches of Mount Robson From Berg Lake, Morning’ (on the reverse)
oil on board
12 x 15 in. (30.5 x 38.1 cm.)
Painted in 1929
Anne Harris (daughter-in-law of the artist, gift from the artist, before 1934).
Private collection (by descent from the above).
Mira Godard Gallery, Toronto.
Kenneth G. Heffel Fine Art Inc., Vancouver.
Peter and Joanne Brown, Vancouver (acquired from the above, 1984); sale, Heffel Fine Art Auctions, Toronto, 23 November 2016, lot 209.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
D. Mills, L.S. Harris Inventory, 1936, Rocky Mountain Sketches, no. 3.
D. Ord, The National Gallery of Canada: Ideas, Art, Architecture, Ontario, 2003, p. 36.
Art Gallery of Toronto, OSA Little Pictures, December 1930, no. 468 (illustrated).
Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada and Vancouver Art Gallery, Lawren Harris Retrospective Exhibition, June-October 1963.
Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario, Lawren S. Harris: Urban Scenes and Wilderness Landscapes, 1906-1930, January-February 1978, p. 174, no. 148 (illustrated, as Mount Robson from Berg Lake).
Special notice
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.
Further details
This work will be included in the forthcoming Lawren S. Harris Inventory Project being compiled by Alec Blair.

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Max Carter
Max Carter Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Americas

Lot Essay

Lawren Harris once explained of his motivation for painting: “If we view a great mountain soaring into the sky, it may excite us, evoke an uplifted feeling within us. There is an interplay of something we see outside of us with our inner response. The artist takes that response and its feelings and shapes it on canvas with paint so that when finished it contains the experience” (quoted in A. Hunter, Lawren Stewart Harris: A Painter’s Progress, New York, 2000, p. 35). Indeed, a pioneering member of the Group of Seven Canadian painters and later a cofounder of the Santa Fe-based Transcendental Painting Group, Harris’ iconic mountain landscapes of the 1920s and 30s encapsulate the essence of the artist’s spiritual connection with nature into strikingly modern experimentations of design. As friend and fellow Canadian artist Emily Carr described of his work in 1927, “There is a holiness about them. Something you can’t describe but just feel” (quoted in Hundred and Thousands: The Journals of Emily Carr, Vancouver, 2006, p. 31).
From Berg Lake, Morning was inspired by Harris’ final sketching trip to the Canadian Rockies in 1929. He spent much of his time on this adventure at Berg Lake in Mount Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia, and recorded his plein air observations in a sketchbook (the partially disassembled Sketchbook 6 is owned by the Art Gallery of Ontario). Three drawings from the trip are particularly related to the present painting, including two now in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada. Based on his pencil sketches, Harris then created a series of six oil panels showing various aspects of Mount Robson, which he exhibited together at the Art Gallery of Toronto in December 1930. Two works in the series, depicting the mountain from Southeast and Northeast, are in the Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
In interpreting his descriptive drawings of the environment into a spiritually powerful oil painting, Harris drew inspiration from philosophy. During studies in Berlin, he developed a connection between the mystical beliefs of Theosophy and his own painting practice, believing that art was a gateway to spiritual understanding. As he explained in an article in The Canadian Theosophist, “the arts epitomize, intensify and clarify the experience of beauty for us, as nothing else can…The arts will be for us of the highest, practical importance in that they mirror for us, in some degree, the essential order, the dynamic harmony, the ultimate beauty, that we are all in search of” (quoted in J. Dorfman, “Lawren Harris: Northern Exposure” in Art and Antiques, September 29, 2015). He also bonded with fellow Group of Seven artist J.E.H. MacDonald over an interest in the Transcendentalist ideas espoused by Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, which they sought to reflect in their paintings.
Beyond these theoretical influences, Harris was also knowledgeable on the artistic movements of his day; for example, he saw equivalency between his own artistic goals and the symbolic snowy landscapes of contemporary Scandinavian art. He also looked to the work of American peers, collecting photographs of works by Georgia O’Keeffe and Rockwell Kent in his scrapbooks. There is a particular parallel between Harris’ mountain paintings like From Berg Lake, Morning with Kent’s depictions of the landscapes of Alaska and Greenland. Indeed, an art critic wrote in 1924, “the work of Mr. Harris makes one think of Rockwell Kent on account of the simplicity of the design and the use of colors…In it you feel the vital north country air.” (quoted in Light for a Cold Hand: Lawren Harris’s Life and Work, Toronto, 1993, p. 92) Peter Larisey furthers, “The resemblance of their work went beyond formal considerations: Harris and Kent had similar ideas on the spiritual meaning of the northern wilderness.” (op. cit., p. 92)
In From Berg Lake, Morning, Harris positions the mountain peak at the top center of the composition, allowing the land mass to completely dominate the panel. The treacherously steep façade is painted with vertical lines of shadow, further emphasizing its awe-inspiring height, as the angular outline and craggy lower peaks add to the sense of fierce beauty. At the front of the picture plane, a twisted wooden stump underscores the haunting desolation of the scene. By contrast, the bright blue and aqua of the sky and water separate the vision from the reality of the surroundings that inspired it, shifting the painting into the realm of the supernatural and spiritual. With these elements coming together to create one powerful evocation of the mountain, From Berg Lake, Morning reflects Harris’ statement about the Group of Seven: “It was an ever clearer and deeply moving experience of oneness with the spirit of the whole land. It was this spirit which dictated, guided and instructed us how the land should be painted” (quoted in H. Hunkin, There is No Finality: A Story of the Group of Seven, Toronto, 1971, p. 56).

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