Sunday 30 September 2012

Boxcar Trips to the Barren North

Lake Superior, 1925.

The other day I wrote a post called "A Dead Tree Really Isn't Dead".  In the meantime, I googled paintings of dead trees and noticed that Group of Seven painter Lawren Harris liked to paint such landscapes.  In fact, according to one website:  "The starkness of the north shore [of Lake Superior] attracted Lawren Harris."  The painter's works became so famous that as of 2008, his paintings could fetch a million dollars or more.

Lawren Harris, the heir to the Massey-Harris fortune (remember Massey Ferguson tractors?), was born and raised in Brantford, Ontario.  In fact, we have a street in the northwest corner named after the painter.  He studied art in Germany for four years and later served in the First World War.  Upon his return to Canada, he continued his painting career, teaming up with fellow Canadian painters like MacDonald, Jackson, etc.  (Tom Thomson had tragically drown at Algonquin Park in 1917.)

In the Fall of 1918, Lawren decided to take the future Group of Seven on some painting excursions via boxcar.  The Algoma Central Railway loaned the artists Car #10557 and they headed north of Sault Saint Marie to paint.  Equipped with bunks, tables, chairs, book shelves, a stove, a canoe, food and other amenities, the men were prepared for weeks.  At certain points, the engineer would unhitch the boxcar, leave it on a side line, and the painters would either canoe or hike to their destination like Agawa Canyon, the Montreal River falls, or Batchawana Bay.  There, they would sketch the scenery for hours on end. 

Much of what they sketched became paintings that were exhibited at the Group of Seven's first Art Gallery of Ontario exhibit in 1920.  The boxcar trips continued until 1923.  However, even when they ended, Lawren Harris continued to paint the stark scenes of Ontario's north.  Lake Superior came out in 1925 and North Shore, Lake Superior the following year.  The latter, arguably his most famous painting, shows rays of light shining down on a dead tree.  Known for his spiritualism, the rays of light remind me of God's light.  Although the scenes were stark, God's abundance was still evident. 

Lawren Harris passed away in 1970 but his work is still recognized worldwide.  In 2008, one of his paintings sold for 1.38 million dollars.  He is credited with being the founding member of the Group of Seven, a group that will not soon be forgotten.

North Shore, Lake Superior, 1926.

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