The Internet is a great source of information, but the fall auction season featured a veritable tsunami of art offered for sale online by auction houses across Canada. One can find bargains, but sadly, it’s a virtual overload for the market to digest in a short time.
Heffel Fine Arts started the trend in Calgary with the download of some 200 Imperial Oil works online. Results were mixed with some important pieces falling well below retail values. However, the subsequent live sale of 88 works was successful with some substantial values, notably for Nicholas de Grandmaison’s Portrait of a Plains Indian at $44,250. Sales were to benefit United Way partners across Canada.
Meanwhile, Hodgins Art Auctions offered over 300 works in a two-night sale. The catalogue cover was illustrated with a fine painting by George Pepper, Tobacco Patch, St. Urbain, P.Q. A work of this quality by Pepper is a rare find in the West. It sold for $21,060. Sybil Andrews’ Coffee Bar, 1952, showed sustained interest for this fine Canadian printmaker at $37,440. I was pleasantly surprised to see a positive result for Arthur Shilling, a brilliant painter of portraiture. His Ojibwa Portrait found solid interest at over $12,000. Hodgins followed the live sale with an online offering.
George Douglas Pepper, "TOBACCO PATCH, ST. URBAIN, P.Q."
Sybil Andrews, "COFFEE BAR" 1952
Arthur Shilling, "OJIBWA PORTRAIT"
Also in Calgary, Levis Fine Art Auctions’ live sale had more than 500 lots on offer. A few items came from the estate of Jim Coutts, a great collector and supporter of many Western artists. Highlights included Joe Fafard’s Vincent Van Gogh, 1983; Illingworth Kerr’s Mountain Sheep, 1956; Ernest Lindner’s Smoke Pattern, 1941; Luke Lindoe’s Untitled - Winter Forest; and a wonderful early John Snow, Roadside, 1953. Other than the Fafard, you can detect my pattern: excellent, early examples by good artists, works that are increasingly rare in this day and age. High prices are not everything.
JOSEPH [JOE] FAFARD, "Vincent Van Gogh" #3/7
ILLINGWORTH HOLEY KERR "Mountain Sheep, Orange on Black"
ERNEST FRIEDRICH LINDNER "Smoke Pattern"
LUKE ORTON LINDOE "Untitled – Winter Forest"
JOHN HAROLD THOMAS SNOW "Roadside"
Two other pieces at Levis had me reaching for my wallet: Louis Archambault’s Untitled - The Priest and Gordon Rayner’s Pot Luck. It’s rare to see such great works by either artist in the West. The sale had good results overall and was followed by an online sale later in the season.
LOUIS DE GONZAGUE PASCAL ARCHAMBAULT "Untitled – The Priest" #1/6
GORDON RAYNER "Pot Luck"
My Toronto rounds began with previews, galleries, walks and hustle. Waddington’s Canadian Fine Art was first and it started well with a strong sale of an early Jack Bush, Côte St. Rose, 1934, at $15,340. This is a beautiful early example of his work, relating in some ways to his later abstract paintings, the subject of an incredible survey at the National Gallery of Canada until Feb. 22. Another favourite was Sorel Etrog’s Harbour at Night, 1953-1954. One of his incredible constructive sculptures, rarely seen or even known within art circles, it sold at $47,200. There was also a wonderful painting by Graham Coughtry, Two Figure Series XIX, 1964. Coughtry was one of the lively Toronto Painters group. His sprawled-out figures, full of colour and energy in thick oil, were cutting edge. It was time we saw a great one of his do well, and it did, selling for $129,800. Another fine piece was J.E.H. MacDonald’s Near Mt Odaray, Rocky Mts, 1928. It was so lively in colour and light it made me think he was having a fine day. And possibly one of the best Lawren Harris paintings I’ve seen in some time, from the early boxcar trips to Algonquin, sold for $188,000. Sybil Andrews hit a new high at $106,200 with the wonderful print Speedway, 1934. Although tiny and in a vintage frame grey with age, J.E.H. MacDonald’s Sketch for Tracks and Traffic, 1912, reached $200,600. It was an incredible find, illustrating his brilliant control of paint and subject. Linda Rodeck’s diligence in finding rare and fresh works to bring to market proved successful overall.
JACK HAMILTON BUSH "CÔTE ST. ROSE" 1934
SOREL ETROG "HARBOUR AT NIGHT", 1953-4
JOHN GRAHAM COUGHTRY "TWO FIGURE SERIES XIX", 1964
JAMES EDWARD HERVEY MACDONALD, "NEAR MT ODARAY, ROCKY MTS" 1928
SYBIL ANDREWS "SPEEDWAY", 1934 13/60
JAMES EDWARD HERVEY MACDONALD, "SKETCH FOR TRACKS AND TRAFFIC" 1912
Heffel presented its two-part fall sale at the University of Toronto. Combinations of work at the preview were well thought out. Paintings by Gordon Smith (Still Life with Red & Black and Winter Forest D), Pierre Gendron (Les dragons), and Guido Molinari (Quantificateur bleu), stood out for me, as did Paterson Ewen’s Lightning Storm and Ivan Eyre’s Uplands. Sales results were strong. Paintings by William Kurelek – there were 10 – sold well throughout the afternoon. Surprises were the Ewen, which sold at $153,400, a huge result for a painting recently priced under $10,000 in a Toronto gallery. The Eyre painting took off and sold for $318,600, a record.
GORDON APPELBE SMITH "Still Life with Red and Black" circa 1957
GORDON APPELBE SMITH "Winter Forest D", 2004
GUIDO MOLINARI "Quantificateur bleu" January 1992, acrylic on canvas, 50" x 40"
PIERRE GENDRON "Les dragons" #3, 1959
WILLIAM PATERSON EWEN "Lightning Storm" 1971
IVAN KENNETH EYRE "Uplands"
Highlights at Heffel’s second part included J.E.H MacDonald’s Winter Study, 1912. This tiny painting sparkled with light and sold for $41,300. A classic subject by Robert Pilot, Market Place, 1924, sold for $188,800. The room was quiet as some lots fell short of estimates, until a small lively panel by Arthur Lismer Georgian Bay, Near MacCallum’s Island, 1916, was brought to the easel. Lismer captured the energy surrounding him, with passing clouds and a roaring wind, from a place so important to the Group of Seven. It sold for $88,500. Lawren Harris stole the show with the painting, Houses on Gerrard Street, circa 1918. If one were to own a perfect small Toronto street scene, this would be it. Full of colour and light and well structured, the sketch sold for $1.1 million, the highlight of the evening. Another small work caught my eye at preview, A.Y. Jackson’s, Indian Home, Great Slave Lake, Fort Resolution, circa 1928. Jackson captured everything important in this sketch, and his brush was lively and full of colour as he painted the owner of a cabin, his dogs, and a tree draped with laundry. The small panel, a perfect example of Canadian impressionism, sold for $47,200.
JAMES EDWARD HERVEY (J.E.H.) MACDONALD "Winter Study" 1912
ROBERT WAKEHAM PILOT "Market Place" 1924
ARTHUR LISMER "Georgian Bay, Near MacCallum's Island" 1916
LAWREN STEWART HARRIS "Houses on Gerrard Street" circa 1918
ALEXANDER YOUNG (A.Y.) JACKSON "Indian Home, Great Slave Lake, Fort Resolution" circa 1928
The final preview in Toronto was Consignor Canadian Fine Art. Its auctions are online only, but previews are open to the public. Worth noting was William Kurelek’s Ukrainian Proverb, a small work with a fascinating provenance and still in the original Kurelek frame. It sold for $41,400. A vintage work by Norval Morrisseau, Warrior, circa 1965-1968, was a perfect example of what a “true” Morrisseau is all about. Importantly, the provenance was accurate and the quality of the image perfect. It sold for $27,600. The only Dorothy Knowles’ work noted in the sales was a spectacular acrylic painting of the late 1970s from the collection of Rothmans, Benson and Hedges. Soft Green in May sold for $29,900 – a major work for a good price. Late in the sale was a perfect Arthur Shilling, The Artist’s Niece Margaret, 1972, another example of his brilliance as a portrait painter. It sold at $3,220. The emotional value of his subject was noticeable and captured perfectly.
WILLIAM KURELEK "Ukrainian Proverb"
NORVAL MORRISSEAU "Warrior"
DOROTHY ELSIE KNOWLES "Soft Green in May" 1979
ARTHUR SHILLING "The Artist’s Niece Margaret" 1972
Overall, there were a few surprises. Notably, it seems the bloom is off the rose for sales of abstracts of the ‘50s and ‘60s by Painters 11. Where have those collectors gone? Maybe they’re feeling full. Or maybe they need to explore beyond the name brands.
SPRING 2015 AUCTIONS
Consignor Canadian Fine Art (online) - consignor.ca
Heffel Fine Art, Vancouver and Toronto - heffel.com
Hodgins Art Auctions, Calgary - hodginsauctions.com
Lando Art Auctions, Edmonton - landoartauctions.com
Levis Fine Art Auctions, Calgary - levisauctions.com
Maynards Fine Art & Antiques, Vancouver - maynardsfineart.com
Waddington’s Canadian Fine Art, Toronto - waddingtons.ca
Walker’s Fine Art & Estate Auctioneers, Ottawa - walkersauctions.com