Presented by Signature Partner
Mar 16, 2022

Entrance to Coldwell Harbour, Lake Superior

We turn our attention to a landscape painting by Lawren S. Harris.

painting of the entrance to coldwell harbour

Lawren S. Harris. Entrance to Coldwell Harbour, Lake Superior, c.1925. Oil on canvas, Overall: 82.6 × 101.9 × 2.5 cm. Promised gift of Bill and June McLean. © Family of Lawren S. Harris.

A recent promised gift to the AGO, Entrance to Coldwell Harbour, Lake Superior (c.1925) is an oil on canvas painting by Lawren S. Harris. More than a familiar name at the AGO, Harris galvanized modern art in Canadian art as a founding member of the Group of Seven. The painting joins the many works by Harris in the AGO Collection, one of the most comprehensive collections of the artist’s work in the world.

Harris’s abstracted landscapes are renowned, often characterized by their flattened, simplified forms and masterly use of colour. Entrance to Coldwell Harbour, Lake Superior is a precursor to his later views of the Arctic and the Rockies. As viewers, we’re treated with an atmospheric impression of a tranquil outdoor scene: treetops are softened, jagged rocks are rounded and rippling waters are quieted. The colour palette is warm and inviting, featuring a complementary blend of browns, beiges, bronzes and oranges. Compositionally, Harris is selective about what elements he shows us, choosing a fragmented perspective of a whole, and hinting at a limitless horizon just beyond.

Coldwell Harbour, Ontario lies in the territories governed by Robinson-Huron Treaty (1850), on the lands of the Anishinaabe. Like much of his work from the 1920s, Harris’ love and fascination with Canada’s northern regions is underscored in Entrance to Coldwell Harbour, Lake Superior. “Indeed, no man can roam or inhabit the Canadian North without it affecting him,” Harris explained to The Canadian Theosophist in 1926, “it gives him a difference in emphasis from the bodily effect of the very coolness and clarity of its air, the feel of the soil and rocks, the rhythms of its hills and the roll of its valleys.” Harris, along with fellow artists and future members of the Group of Seven like A.Y. Jackson, travelled through Northern Ontario beginning in the late 1910s, eventually making their way to Lake Superior’s northern shores by 1921. These expeditions, proving artistically inspirational for Harris and friends, continued well into the 1920s, with Harris making hundreds of sketches that would later develop into his major paintings. For Harris, art was a vehicle to transmit nature’s mystical qualities and reflect his deep Theosophical beliefs. Entrance to Coldwell Harbour, Lake Superior went on view in the sixth exhibition by the Group of Seven in 1928.

J.S. McLean with Lawren Harris’ painting circa 1953

J.S. McLean with Lawren Harris’ painting circa 1953, Entrance to Coldwell Harbour, Lake Superior (c. 1925). Courtesy of Paul McLean.

What’s more, this painting once belonged to a visionary Canadian art collector, J.S. McLean, and held pride of place in his home, as we can see in the image above. This impressive view of Coldwell Harbour remained in the family until recently, as it was always a promised gift to the AGO to join the rest of the McLean collection here. Paul McLean of the McLean family graciously provided us with a photograph of Coldwell Harbour, taken at the same location and perspective as Harris’s painting. We can certainly imagine the artist sitting and sketching just out of frame.

Photo of Coldwell Harbour

Coldwell Harbour. Courtesy of Paul McLean.

Admission to the AGO Collection and all special exhibitions is always free for AGO Members, AGO Annual Passholders and visitors 25 and under. Make sure your next visit includes a stop at the J.S. McLean Centre for Indigenous + Canadian Art and highlights from the Thomson Collection of Canadian Art on Level 2.

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