Sunday, October 4, 2009

Dr. Salem Bland, by Lawren Harris

It is unusual to find a portrait painting by Group of Seven member, Lawren Harris.   This painting of Dr. Salem Bland is, however one such painting, which has been found online.

This is a picture with few compromises. The flat background, the black clergical gown, the contrasting white clergical collar, the steel grey-white hair the severely sculptured beard and the strong, squared jaw give Dr. Bland a rather doctrinal, black and white view of life.

Bland's face lacks any trace of a smile. His features from his eyes down are drawn and tight and his beard is precisely trimmed.

I find myself looking at the backlighting behind Bland, and wondering if I don't see subdued suggestions of a halo effect?

But there is more. Harris's genius in this is in his ability to turn Bland into a man we can empathize with. Dr. Bland looks at the world with tremendous compassion and gentleness. His eyes are questioning and they suggest that he has been weeping or is at least, near to tears from the matter of human sin and suffering.

Dr. Bland, has a high intellectual forehead and cerebral dome, which phrenologists say befits a man of great intellect.

The statements made by this painting, are perhaps best seen by looking at Lawren Harris's theological viewpoint. Dr. Salem Bland, suggests that Harris is presenting a theosophistic statement against the doctrinal position of conservative, protestant, Christianity, for Harris was a Theosophist.

I won't expand upon this for I don't wish to use the blog as a forum for religious points of view, so you may wish to learn more about Theosophism on Wikipedia.

But, viewed in this context, Harris is following the footsteps of a legion of artists who have gone before him and who have used their art as a vehicle for making religious statements.

Wikipedia provides a good insight into the life of Dr. Bland. He was a foremost believer in the social gospel and his life was marked by many valued contributrions to humanity and to the ministry. Dr. Bland served in the Methodist, Wesleyan Methodist, and United Church of Canada, after church union.

As producer of the Portrait of the Visual Arts in Canada, I wish to thank Mr. Jonathan Cameron for the comments he sent 'The Portrait'. I took Mr.Cameron's advice and found an excellent article on Dr. Bland.
All things considered, I decided that this entry required some rewriting to set the matter about Dr. Bland straight for the record. And, I extend my apologies to family members who were related to Dr. Bland.

 If you click on the Wikipedia link you will learn more about his contributions and life in the ministsry.  Please click here.


  1. Very insightful post on a lovely painting.

    Thanks for the plug in the post; I've been so busy with work work that I haven't visited in awhile and missed it.

    I recognized Warkworth in the Snider post; we used to have a piece of property there that we were intending to move to, but moved out west instead. I used to ride my bike out there from Bowmanvile and spend the night in a little cabin on the property just north of town, in that 'own a piece of Canada' 'subdivision'. Lovely little town.

    Recently Antoine de St-Exupery's crashed aircraft was found, and it was confirmed it was shot down. As well, the German pilot who shot him down was found. He was horrified to discover he'd done the deed, although he had suspected that might be the case. He was a fan of St-Exupery's writing.

  2. Thanks Clive for the interesting background on your own life and the story of Antoine de St.Exupery.

  3. I know this is an old post, but I am disappointed enough to still want to comment. A few minutes of internet research is all it would have taken to discover that Dr. Salem Bland was in fact a real person. He was a distant cousin of my grandmother, and she helped look after him in his old age while she was in nursing school. He was a well respected minister and something of a socialite in Toronto.

  4. Thank you for your imput into this blog entry Jonathan. Your additional information adds depth and understanding to this entry and it corrects several incorrect assumptions.


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