Lawren Harris’ painting ‘Little House’ casts a golden light on the city of Toronto

Sometimes the things that seem best known deserve a new eye. A house in the city, for example. A winter day.

When we think of the artist of the Group of Seven, Lawren Harris, the first images that come to mind are his barren landscapes. Sarah Milroy, chief curator of the McMichael Canadian Collection, notes that when he returned to Canada from studying in Germany in 1908, he painted houses in Toronto, particularly houses in The Ward, a neighborhood where working class immigrants lived. (Parts of the parish were demolished from the early 20th century through the 1960s to make way for city buildings like the town hall and hospital district.)

“He was interested in the gritty texture of urban life,” says Milroy, adding that it wasn’t until many years later that he painted the landscapes that would make his work one of the most recognizable in the country, to define how Canadians see us .

Interestingly, these landscapes would result in the Group of Seven being accused of creating the myth of an uninhabited land by omitting the indigenous peoples who lived here before settlers came, by omitting the immigrants who were the engine of the The country’s astonishing growth was time – some of which Harris captured in his paintings and drawings in Toronto.

“Little House,” notes Milroy above, “captures the golden light that is specific to this city at the end of a winter day, a moment of rare beauty amid the desolation when the light comes in from the west.” ”

Toronto may be a gray city – but that light softens the lines of this little house and adds a shimmer as the cold shadow of the winter night rises from below. It was painted more than a hundred years ago and is reminiscent of the same sunsets that so many of us are now being lifted up as we go through a second lockdown and a long, deep winter.

This Harris painting is part of the A Like Vision: The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson exhibit at the McMichael Canadian Collection. You can visit online and it will also be available in person once the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

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