Lawren Stewart Harris
1885 - 1970
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Lawren Stewart Harris was born into a wealthy family in Brantford, Ontario in 1885. He attended Central Technical School and St. Andrew’s College in Toronto, and from 1904-1908, in Berlin.
His was the main driving force (with J.E.H. MacDonald) that brought together and joined the varying talents and temperaments which formed the Group of Seven. He was also the founder of the now famous Canadian Group of Painters which succeeded the Group of Seven in 1933. Harris was a full-time painter, free of the need to support himself through teaching or work as a commercial artist (as all the other Group of Seven members had to do).
In 1913, Harris financed the construction of the Studio Building in Toronto with Dr. James MacCallum which provided artists with cheap or free space to live and work. In 1918 and 1919, Harris and MacDonald financed boxcar trips for the artists of the Group of Seven to the Algoma region.
Harris was interested in philosophy and eastern thought. He became involved in Theosophy and joined the Toronto Lodge of the International Theosophical Society. He was so passionate about the North Shore and fascinated by the theosophical concept of nature, that he returned annually for the next seven years. It was there that he developed the style of more abstract and simplified, stark landscapes for which he is best known.
Harris travelled and painted with A.Y. Jackson to Lake Superior’s North Shore, made annual trips to the Rockies for three years from 1924 and again sailed with A.Y. Jackson aboard a supply ship in 1930.
Harris left his wife of 24 years, Trixie, and his three children to marry Bess Housser, the wife of his school-time friend F.B. Housser, in 1934. He was threatened with charges of bigamy by Trixie’s family because of his actions and moved to the United States with Bess later that year. In 1940 they moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, where Harris entered the abstract phase that would carry him throughout the rest of his career. Harris was influenced by the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky’s book, ‘Concerning The Spiritual in Art’, and subsequently incorporated symbolic color into facets of his work.
In 1969 Harris was made a Companion of the Order of Canada. He died in Vancouver in 1970 as a well-known artist, with work held in many national and international collections and museums.