Roberts Gallery Blog
Roberts Gallery Blog

“HOUSE IN WINTER” by LAWREN HARRIS

Lawren Harris’s painting of Frank Davison’s house at 3 North Park Street in Hanover, New Hampshire, offers valuable insight into his creativity soon after he and his new wife, Bess, left Toronto in 1934.[1] When they arrived in Hanover in the middle of November 1934 and moved into the Whitaker Apartments at 4 North Park Street, across from the Davison home, Harris’s evolution toward abstraction was well underway. [2] A letter to Emily Carr a year and a half later describes his immersion, conceding he could return to representational painting but could not predict when. [3]

 

The 18 by 22 inch format, on the rough side of tempered hardboard (e.g. Masonite), is common to Harris’s Hanover paintings. Bigger than the sketches and studies he made before and during his involvement with the Group of Seven, and smaller than most of his canvases, Harris could pursue an idea more fully and more quickly this way than by making oil sketches and full-size canvases. Instead of oil sketches, Harris made graphite studies on paper that informed the paintings, and at least two studies are known for House in Winter.[4]

 

Barely three years earlier, Harris encouraged Emily Carr to return to a subject from an earlier phase in her career and extend its essence. He said it gives his work, “added conviction and a little greater freedom,” then took his own advice with House in Winter. [5]  It echoes Hart House’s Red House in Winter (1925) with more exacting geometry underpinning the composition, as well as the McMichael Canadian Art Collection’s Mount Robson (c. 1929) with its yellows, blues and whites, and echoing contours of snow. One example of Harris’s heightened geometry is the house’s shadowed central exterior wall flanked by the front door and bay. Worthy of Georgia O’Keeffe, that vertical rectangle is a painted fugue in miniature, perfectly centered between left and right, and its shuttered windows centered within it.

 

House in Winter straddles a crucial moment as Harris’s first career as a representational painter transmuted into his second career as an abstract painter. Serenely monumental, it is pregnant with thoughts and motifs Harris apply to the bold start of his next thirty-five years of painting.

 

Gregory Humeniuk, Toronto

October 2021

[1] Thanks to Teresa Oden of the Hanover Historical Society for her quick identification of the former Davison house as the subject of Harris’s painting.

[2] Dennis Reid, “The Later Work of Lawren S. Harris,” in Atma Buddhi Manas: The Later Work of Lawren S. Harris, exh. cat. (Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 1985): 22.

[3] Lawren Harris to Emily Carr, 3 May 1936, Harris-Carr Correspondence 1936-1937, MG 30, D 215 vol. 2, Emily Carr fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa. Thanks to Alec Blair, Lawren S. Harris Inventory Project for reminding me of Harris’s letters to Carr.

[4] Hanover, NH drawing 8 13, graphite on paper, 21.3 x 27.3 cm (8-1/2 x 10-1/2 in.), sale Heffel Fine Art Auction House, online, 26 April 2008, no. 310, and an untitled sketch of the rooftop.

[5] Lawren Harris to Emily Carr, 20 December 1931, Harris-Carr Correspondence 1931, MG 30, D 215 vol. 2, Emily Carr fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa.

 

Lawren S. (Stewart) Harris (Canadian, Brantford ON, 23 October 1885-Vancouver, CB, 29 January 1970)

House in Winter, winter 1934-1935

oil on hardboard

45.7 x 55.9 cm (18 x 22 in.)

 

 

Signature and/or inscriptions

Signed b.r.: LAWREN / HARRIS

Inscribed on verso t.c.: “HOUSE IN WINTER” / LAWREN / HARRIS / 4670 BELMONT AVE. / VANCOUVER,       B.C.

Inscribed t.r. (absolute), in graphite: X

Inscribed t.r.: 7016 / 8731S / 5594A

Inscribed c.: Bess Harris / Collection . 1942

Throughout: ¿remnants of adhesive from pasted labels?

 

Provenance

The artist

Dominion Gallery, Montreal

Roberts Gallery, Toronto

Dr. Jack C. Egan, Toronto

Roberts Gallery, Toronto

Private Collection, Toronto

Roberts Gallery, Toronto

 

Exhibitions

18th Annual Sketches Exhibition, Roberts Gallery, Toronto, 13 June-11 July 2012.

 

Literature [chronological]

18th Annual Sketches Exhibition. Exh. cat. Toronto: Roberts Gallery, 2012: cover, repro. col.