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GROUP OF SEVEN
1885 - 1970
Lawren Harris was born in Brantford, Ontario into a wealthy family on October 23 1885. He was the first born of two
sons. He attended St. Andrew's College in Toronto, and then from age 19 (1904 to 1908) he studied in Berlin.
He was interested in philosophy and eastern thought. Later, he became involved in Theosophy and joined the Toronto
Lodge of the International Theosophical Society. Lawren went on to marry Beatrice (Trixie) Phillips on January 20th 1910
and together had three children born in the first decade of their marriage. Soon after meeting and becoming friends with J.E.H. MacDonald in 1911, they together formed the Group of Seven. In 1913, he financed the construction of the Studio Building in Toronto with friend Dr. James MacCallum. The Studio provided artists with cheap or free space where they could live and work.
His school-time friend F.B. Housser was married in 1914 to a woman named Bess. Harris and Bess fell in love,
but saw no action that could be made. For the two to divorce their spouses and marry would cause an outrage. Later in 1918 and 1919, Lawren Harris with J. E. H. MacDonald financed boxcar trips for the artists of the Group of Seven to the Algoma region. Another painting trip after Algoma was to Lake Superior's North Shore with A.Y. Jackson. Harris was so passionate about the North Shore and fascinated by the theosophical concept of nature, he returned annually for the next seven years. There he developed the style he is best known for. Harris’s paintings in the early 1920s were characterized by rich, decorative colours that were applied thick, in painterly impasto.
He painted landscapes around Toronto, Georgian Bay and Algoma. His first trip to the Rockies in 1924 soon became annual , too, for the next three years. In 1930, Harris’s landscape paintings became simplified as he sailed with A.Y. Jackson aboard a supply ship. Harris finally left his wife of 24 years, Trixie, and his three children, and married Bess Housser in 1934. Harris was threatened with charges of bigamy by Trixie’s family because of his actions. Later that year he and Bess left their home and moved to the United States. Then in 1940 they moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, where Harris entered his abstract phase.
Throughout his life, he never had to support himself as a teacher or commercial artist (as all the other Group of Seven members had to do), but could support himself as a full-time painter. Lawren Harris died in Vancouver in 1970 as a well-known artist. To Harris art was “a realm of life between our mundane world and the world of the spirit.”
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