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Sorel Etrog "Study for Survivors Are Not Heroes" 1968
Sorel Etrog "Study for Survivors Are Not Heroes" 1968 bronze sculpture 9.5" x 3.25" x 2.5"ESTIMATE: $4,000/6,000 Realised $17,550
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Maxwell Bennett Bates "Children" 1964
Maxwell Bennett Bates "Children" 1964 watercolour and ink, 14" x 17 1/4" ESTIMATE: $4000/$6000 Realized: $17,800
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Marion Florence S. Mackay Nicoll "Amerind (High In The Council)" 1963
Marion Florence S. Mackay Nicoll "Amerind (High In The Council)" 1963 oil on canvas, 60" x 33"ESTIMATE: $8000/$10,000 Realized: almost $64,000
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Jack Bush "Summer Lake" 1973
Jack Bush "Summer Lake" 1973 acrylic on canvas 50" x 70" ESTIMATE: $100,000/$150,000 Realized $310,500
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Gordon Rayner "Flying Out" 1980
Gordon Rayner "Flying Out" 1980 acrylic on canvas 60" x 72"Sold for $7,475.00
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Henry Eric Bergman "Ghosts of the Woods"
Henry Eric Bergman "Ghosts of the Woods" oil on canvas27" x 32 insESTIMATE: $1500/$2000 Realized: $3,910.00
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Thomas Westley McLean "Pausing for a rest, Algonquin Park"
Thomas Wesley McLean "Pausing for a rest, Algonquin Park" oil on canvas 32.5" x 36" ESTIMATE: $7000/9000 Realized: $18880
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Randolph Stanley Hewton, RCA "Paris" 1912
Randolph Stanley Hewton, RCA "Paris" 1912 oil on board 7.5" x 9.5"ESTIMATE: $3000/$5000 Realized: $16,250
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M. Emily Carr "Forest Clearing"
M. Emily Carr "Forest Clearing" oil on paper 36" x 24"ESTIMATE: $150000/200000 Realized: $472,000
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Walter Joseph Phillips RCA "York Boat on Lake Winnpeg" 1930
Walter Joseph Phillips RCA "York Boat on Lake Winnpeg" 1930 woodcut 10.2" x 13.7"ESTIMATE: $15000/20000 Realized: $35,400
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Lawren Stewart Harris "Lake Superior Painting"
Lawren Stewart Harris "Lake Superior Painting" oil on canvas 40" x 50"ESTIMATE: $2500000/3500000 Realized: $2,478,000
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Guido Molinari "Mutation Serielle with Black Band" 1966
GUIDO MOLINARIGuido Molinari "Mutation Serielle with Black Band" 1966 acrylic on canvas 60" x 75"ESTIMATE: $70000/90000 Realized: $200,600
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Michael James Aleck Snow OC RCA "Solar" 1962
Michael James Aleck Snow OC RCA "Solar" 1962 oil on canvas, 30.5" x 44"ESTIMATE: $40,000/$60,000 Realized $129,800
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Kazuo Nakamura CGP CSGA CSPWC P11 "Square Infinity" 1964
Kazuo Nakamura CGP CSGA CSPWC P11 "Square Infinity" 1964 oil on canvas 50.25" x 40"ESTIMATE: $30,000/$50,000 Realized $88,500
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Ken (Kenneth) Edison Danby RCA "Kimono"
Ken (Kenneth) Edison Danby RCA "Kimono" oil on canvas60" x 88"ESTIMATE: $70,000/$90,000 Realized $118,000.00
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Léon Bellefleur CAS PY QMG "Les Alpilles" 1959
Léon Bellefleur CAS PY QMG "Les Alpilles" 1959 oil on canvas 19.75" x 23.75"ESTIMATE: $9,000/$12,000 Realized $18,880
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William Kurelek ARCA OC OSA "Wind Singing in Telephone Wires" 1977
William Kurelek ARCA OC OSA "Wind Singing in Telephone Wires" 1977 mixed media on board7.75" x 36"ESTIMATE: $30,000/$40,000 Realized $100,300
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Jean Albert McEwen AANFM RCA "Les cages d'îsles #19" 1974
Jean Albert McEwen AANFM RCA "Les cages d'îsles #19" 1974 oil on canvas 40" x 60"ESTIMATE: $30,000/$40,000 Realized $50,150
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Jean Paul Riopelle AUTO CAS OC QMG RCA SCA "Pleine saison" 1954
Jean Paul Riopelle AUTO CAS OC QMG RCA SCA "Pleine saison" 1954 oil on canvas 51.125" x 63.75"ESTIMATE: $400,000/$600,000 Realized $1,298,000
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Sybil Andrews CPE "Fall of the Leaf" 1934
Sybil Andrews CPE "Fall of the Leaf" 1934 editioned 21/60 linocut in 5 colours 14.25" x 10.125"ESTIMATE: $20,000/$30,000 Realized $32,450
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Walter Joseph (W.J.) Phillips ASA CPE CSPWC RCA "Summer Idyll" 1926
Walter Joseph (W.J.) Phillips ASA CPE CSPWC RCA "Summer Idyll" 1926 editioned 69/100 colour woodcut 17.875" x 12.25 ESTIMATE: $20,000/$30,000 Realized $35,400
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Alexander Young (A.Y.) Jackson ALC CGP G7 OSA RCA RSA "Mazinaw Lake, March, Bon Echo" 1924
Alexander Young (A.Y.) Jackson ALC CGP G7 OSA RCA RSA "Mazinaw Lake, March, Bon Echo"1924 oil on canvas 25" x 32.25"ESTIMATE: $125,000/$175,000 Realized $619,500
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Lawren Stewart Harris ALC BCSFA CGP FCA G7 OSA RPS TPG "Lake Superior Sketch LXI" circa 1926/28
Lawren Stewart Harris ALC BCSFA CGP FCA G7 OSA RPS TPG "Lake Superior Sketch LXI" circa 1926/28 oil on board 12" x 15"ESTIMATE: $500,000/$700,000 Realized $973,500
In New York this spring, Sotheby’s presented what was called a “selling exhibition” of Canadian art under its S|2 wing (the Private Sale and Gallery arm of Sotheby's Contemporary Art Department) rather than at auction. This highly anticipated sale of prominent abstract art was represented in a beautiful small catalogue, in full colour and with opening notations by Roald Nasgaard, former chief curator of the Art Gallery of Ontario. Featured was art from two Montreal groups, the Automatistes and Les Plasticiens, as well as Painters Eleven from Toronto. The overall quality was impeccable. All were priced according to consignment values, often higher-than-previous records for the artists. I had hoped strong sales would re-establish values for high-quality abstraction, but also that a larger audience for Canadian art would be found beyond national borders. Although rumors of successful sales made the rounds, it seems overall results were minimal. Without media attention or Sotheby’s confirmation of sales, dealers and collectors were left in the dark. But to give credit where due, I commend Sotheby’s for the effort.
Although the New York results did little to further prominent sales in Canada, spring auctions in Canada did hold their own. Two art sales that first caught my attention were at Levis in Calgary and Maynards in Vancouver. Levis consigned a wonderful small bronze with a beautiful dark green patina by Toronto artist Sorel Etrog, Study for Survivors are Not Heroes, a 1968 maquette for a larger work now installed at Hart House Gallery at the University of Toronto. Etrog died in Toronto earlier this year after a long career. With a conservative estimate of $4,000 to $6,000, the piece sold exactly where it should have, for $17,550 (all prices include the buyer’s premium). It was great to see, as not so long ago Etrog’s values struggled at auction.
Meanwhile, the contemporary and Canadian art auction at Maynards offered two works by Calgary artists that jumped out. The first, by Maxwell Bates, was a 1964 watercolour and ink titled Children. The fine colour and Bates’ handling of the youngsters, posed before a distant view, fills the piece with intrigue. It represents Bates at his finest. With an estimate of $4,000 to $6,000 (low, even for a watercolour), the work sold for about $17,800. It’s a wonderful step in the right direction for this important Canadian artist. The other painting of note was Marion Nicoll’s Amerind (High in the Council), a prime totemic painting from 1963. It’s substantial, at 60 inches by 33 inches, and the quality is wonderful. The work was collected by the late Gordon Gibbs, who served on art committees for both Esso and Gulf Canada. The painting, which had an estimate of $8,000 to $10,000, sold for almost $64,000, a record for Nicoll.
The next stop was Toronto for sales at Waddington’s and Consignor Canadian Fine Art. I had the catalogues in hand, but seeing art on the wall is the only way to make a proper decision about possible buys. At Consignor, I found a few surprises. The company had a consignment of contemporary art from an established Canadian corporate collection – Rothmans, Benson & Hedges. There was good work by Ray Mead and William Perehudoff, but what I consider the best piece was an incredible Jack Bush, Summer Lake, 1973, which sold for $310,500. I also noted a quirky but perfect Gordon Rayner.
Another special painting that caught my eye was by Henry Eric Bergman. Possibly, I have stumped you with that name! Bergman was from Winnipeg and associated with the Group of Seven. He was an incredible wood engraver, and his beautiful small prints show amazing detail. He was also a fine painter. Ghosts of the Woods, a serene landscape, was inspired by the Lake of the Woods. Rare and perfect, it was a great find. The relationship to Lawren Harris is apparent, but it’s by no means a copy. Rather it seems somehow inspired by his Lake Superior paintings. It had an estimate of $1,500 to $2,000 and sold for $3,900. In my opinion, it’s easily worth two times as much.
Waddington’s was next on the list, and four visits to the preview consumed most of my time in Toronto. But it was worth the effort. The catalogue represented a mix of Canadian art, not necessarily the most costly pieces, but fine and, in some cases, curious works. The first lot – a piece by Thomas Wesley McLean, an artist who associated with the Group of Seven – was a good example of quality without a huge track record. Pausing for a Rest, Algonquin Park has a beautiful quiet light. It shows two large canoes with paddlers and guides resting in the shade, all depicted with a thick brush and warm colour. A stunning opener, it doubled the estimate of $7,000 to $9,000. The second lot was an equal surprise. Done in 1912 with a lively brush, this small and delicate gem, Paris, by Randolph Hewton, tripled the estimate at more than $16,500. In a market where it’s getting tough to find brilliant examples by known artists with established values, it’s important to keep finding the missing people who also created great art. In other words, it’s good to remain open to new possibilities.
Waddington’s managed to consign a beautiful Emily Carr work on paper, Forest Clearing, which sold for a solid $472,000. If not a record for her work on paper, it was certainly close. W.J. Phillips, who has gained ground with his prints, (finally!), was represented by a fine woodcut from 1930, York Boat on Lake Winnipeg. It’s one of his brilliant works, and it sold for $35,400. The next lot was a large Lawren Harris, Lake Superior, with an estimate of $2.5 to $3.5 million. It has a warmer and softer approach than many of his works. The question was, of course, whether it would make the estimate and set a new record. Bidding opened at $1.8 million and the painting sold quickly to a phone bid at just under $2.5 million. One last mention is a fabulous Guido Molinari, Mutation Serielle with Black Band, 1966, which sold for $200,600. This confirmed to me that good quality can create positive results. There were ups and downs throughout the sale, but overall it did well.
My next stop was in Vancouver at Heffel’s sale of Canadian post-war / contemporary and fine Canadian art. A wonderful surprise was a 1962 walking woman painting, Solar, by Michael Snow. I also noted pieces by Kazuo Nakamura (Square Infinity, 1964), Ken Danby (Kimono, 1987-1988), Léon Bellefleur (Les Alpilles, 1959), William Kurelek (Wind Singing in Telephone Wires, 1977) and Jean McEwen (Les cages d’isles, 1974). Overall, strong prices were achieved on good pieces. The kingpin was a piece by Jean Paul Riopelle, Pleine saison, 1954, which sold at $1.3 million.
Heffel’s sale of fine Canadian art began with two block prints by Sybil Andrews and one by W.J. Phillips. Both artists deserve recognition and collectors seemed to agree. All three pieces sold for upward of $30,000. Excitement was generated when A.Y. Jackson’s Mazinaw Lake, March, Bon Echo, 1924, a canvas with strong provenance, sold for $619,500. Heffel had also consigned a work by Harris, Lake Superior Sketch LXI, circa 1926-1928. It’s rare to see two Harris works of similar subject in one season. The painting sold for $973,500. The evening ended with total sales of $9.7 million, an impressive result.
Over 10 days of travel and previews, I was sometimes happily surprised by values achieved and sometimes dismayed by passed lots. In some cases, I wished I had bid! Overall, I would describe the season as somewhat hesitant. Good buyers are doing their homework and collectors are reserved. But for the best art, they stepped forward with confidence.
FALL 2014 AUCTION DATES
Oct 19 Lando Art Auctions, Edmonton - landoartauctions.com
Nov 5 Maynards Fine Art & Antiques, Vancouver - maynardsfineart.com
Nov 17/18 Hodgins Art Auctions, Calgary - hodginsauctions.com
Nov 23 Levis Fine Art Auctions, Calgary - levisauctions.com
Nov 24 Waddington’s Canadian Fine Art, Toronto - waddingtons.ca
Nov 27 Consignor Canadian Fine Art (online only) - consignor.ca
Nov 28 Heffel Fine Art, Toronto - heffel.com