Lawren Stewart Harris

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Lawren Stewart Harris with Biomorphic Composition
Harris in Santa Fe, 1939

Lawren Stewart Harris, (October 23, 1885 – January 29, 1970) was a Canadian painter, best known as a member the Group of Seven who pioneered a distinctly Canadian painting style in the early twentieth century. He was a member of the Toronto Lodge of the Theosophical Society in Canada.

Involvement with the Theosophical Society

Harris deeply believed in theosophy, to such an extent that he wrote for The Canadian Theosophist, read papers at conventions, and gave radio talks on the subject. He bothered his friends by zealously handing out or sending them literature about the society... In contrast with the religions in which Harris had been raised, theosophy subscribes to no creed or dogma. It therefore took him above ordinary laws, moral codes, and ethical systems – and gave him greater freedom. Moreover, his passionately held belief had a surprisingly invigorating effect on his life and work: theosophy aims its lessons precisely at self-development. It helped Harris to change his life and to become an abstract artist, as he did in 1934. Once he discovered this new orientation, which meant a profound change in his art practice, theosophy helped him stay committed to creating the abstract paintings – which he described as "purer creative work" – that the painted for the remainder of his life.[1]

Artistic career

Biographer Joan Murray wrote about Harris's legacy in art:

Lawren Harris was exceptional among major artists in at least three ways. He was born to wealth and never lacked for money. He was an intellectual who theorized about art and demonstrated his theories in his paintings. And he was a spiritual man for all his life, ultimately placing his spiritual ideas at the centre of his art.

Lawren Harris' long quest was for a style in which the demands of both spiritual life and art might be given their due. His legacy lies in his expression of the heart of Canada during a particular period and the breadth of effects he extracted form a medium that he defined broadly and inventively. He was versatile, developing from representation – particularly of landscape – to abstraction.[2]

He was a member of the famous Group of Seven, along with Franklin Carmichael, Frank Johnston, A. Y Jackson, Arthur Lismer, J. E. H. MacDonald, and F. H. Varley. It expanded into the Canadian Group of Painters in the 1930s, with Harris as president.


Joan Murray biography

Additional resources


Murray, Joan. Lawren Harris: An Introduction to His Life and Art. Toronto: Firefly Books, Ltd., 2003.



  1. Joan Murray, Lawren Harris: An Introduction to His Life and Art (Toronto: Firefly Books, Ltd., 2003), 41.
  2. Joan Murray, 55.