When you hear the name Lawren S. Harris, you may think of sharp blue and white depictions of the Canadian North. But before this artist’s monumental works of northern landscapes came to be, Harris was enamoured with urban scenes, including the one in this week’s Art Pick, Houses, Richmond Street.
Harris was a founding member of the Group of Seven and one of the group’s best-known artists. Though many people attribute Harris’s success to his simplified compositions, he created far more intricate scenes in his formative years. Inspired first and foremost by the Canadian landscape, Harris actually began his career painting detailed cityscapes, streets and houses in Toronto.
He began painting street scenes of the older and poorer parts of the city, including the area depicted in Houses, Richmond Street in 1911 (which was also around the same time he met Group of Seven founding member, J.E.H. Macdonald). He continued to paint similar subjects in Toronto and other small Ontario towns into the 1920s.
As he travelled farther north, Harris developed an increasingly stylized approach. In this new style, his interpretations of lakes, trees, sky and mountains sought out the basic structures beneath the natural forms – giving us the striking mountainous imagery so many Canadians know and love about his work.
You can see Houses, Richmond Street in the Thomson Canadian Collection on Level 2, Gallery 218. Visit the Canadian Collection for even more works by Harris and other Group of Seven members.
You can also learn more about Harris’s work and further connections to Toronto, especially the historic neighbourhood of The Ward, in the catalogue created for our monumental 2016 exhibition, The Idea of North, available from shopAGO.
Stay tuned for next week’s Art Pick.
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