1 of 5
Henry George Glyde, "The Jiggers," no date, oil on board, 23.5” x 31.5” — $20,700 at Maynards.
2 of 5
"In the Rockies"
Charles John Collings, "In the Rockies," no date, watercolour on paper 6.8” x 4.8” — $2,106 at Levis.
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Jean Paul Riopelle, "Composition," 1955, oil on canvas, 24.8” x 80.8” — $1.2 million at Heffel. Prices include buyers’ premiums.
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"Presence 4 (Two People)"
Marion Nicoll, "Presence 4 (Two People)," 1960, oil on canvas, 54” x 32” — $20,000 at Hodgins.
5 of 5
"Prairie Children Fetching Firewood"
William Kurelek, "Prairie Children Fetching Firewood," 1967, oil on board, 12.3” x 14.8” — $106,200 at Joyner/ Waddington’s.
Spring a shifting season in the Canadian art auction business
By Doug MacLean
The dawn of the spring auction season arrived with the first catalogue in my mailbox. Of course, it was from Heffel in Vancouver, which is never late. I had been hesitating about booking my ticket for only the one Toronto sale at Joyner / Waddington’s. With Sotheby’s now down for the count, Toronto’s pulse was faint.
Maynards’ Vancouver sale had already slid by quietly on May 8. The catalogue had arrived on Monday and, with the sale on Wednesday, there was little time to review it, although some good pieces were hidden in the mix. Whenever auction houses can turn up good private collections, as Maynards managed to do, it’s worth a second look.
Heffel’s contemporary and historical sales were scheduled for May 15. As usual, there were some gems from across the country in both categories. Jack Bush, Gordon Smith, Jean Paul Lemieux, Jean Paul Riopelle and a few others led the contemporary sale in a quiet room on a sunny afternoon. Many seats were empty, but there was action from a few live bidders and, of course, the inevitable phone bids.
The historical sale kicked in promptly at 7 p.m. The lead group of works was a consignment from the collection of the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal Cultural Heritage Foundation, put together primarily by artist Anne Savage, who taught in the Protestant school system. Work by members of the Group of Seven and the Beaver Hall Group, as well as other painters, had featured prominently in the administration offices. Now, for the first time, this rare consignment was “fresh and clean” and for sale, a desirable fact.
Again, a quiet room, but there was enough action to make buying a tough business. One prominent bidder seemed not only to be driving values but also gathering a collection in one go. Some dealers who wanted specific pieces were frustrated as the bidder held his paddle against competitors. Score one point for Heffel, as the tally for this one fellow was about $2 million. It was a losing affair, though, for the Canadian art market, as a small but diverse group of other collectors missed out. The two Heffel sales combined proved to have enough of the right art to dominate the season again, earning a total of about $11 million.
In the undertow of the spring season were two sales in Calgary, one at Levis and the other at Hodgins. I spent time, as usual, examining both sales. The Levis sale, on April 21, held promise with a good small watercolour by Charles John Collings, who was profiled in the Spring 2013 issue of Galleries West. Collings was featured, via a generous gift by art dealer Uno Langmann, at the Vancouver Art Gallery this year, alongside work by Emily Carr. This beautiful, if concise, exhibition demonstrated the excellent quality of Collings’ work, making him another example of a forgotten Canadian artist who should be more visible. Of course, many other fine artists, including Westerners Illingworth Kerr, Nicholas de Grandmaison, Luke Lindoe and Janet Mitchell, featured prominently at Levis.
The Hodgins sale, on May 28, included a wonderful painting by Marion Nicoll, who, after far too long a wait, was the subject of an excellent retrospective earlier this year in the Nickle Galleries at the University of Calgary. Nicoll, in my view, is the preeminent female abstract painter of Western Canada. In comparison to art of similar calibre, her work is undervalued, a point illustrated again at this sale as the painting struggled to $20,000. In contrast, there’s no hesitation from buyers of Quebec abstractionists Marcelle Ferron, Rita Letendre and Lise Gervais, whose good paintings can fetch $25,000 to $150,000. It demonstrates again the need to understand and value a wider range of Canadian art.
Of course, there were a few more gems at Hodgins – Robert Pilot, Henry George Glyde, Ted Godwin, Luke Lindoe and others. The sale was lively and, over two nights, successful. Certainly, the ease and quality of Frank Hall’s auctioneering skills make for a quick and enjoyable evening.
Joyner / Waddington’s sale was set for June 3, so off to Toronto I flew, catalogue now in hand. As usual, previews of Joyner’s sales are a must, and as dealers, clients and onlookers arrived in Toronto, all seemed in order. But one preview, one sale and one gathering was clearly missing and it showed in a general lack of energy. There were no comparisons, no chitchat and no champagne at the Royal Ontario Museum. Sotheby’s Canadian art sale was now officially on the missing list.
Still, Joyner had dug up a few excellent pieces by William Kurelek, David Milne and others to make for adequate interest. The night went reasonably well with a full room, and bids were placed quickly on Robert Cowley’s accurate calls.
Since the spring, well … there’s been lots of changes in the auction business, so maybe there’s a strong pulse after all. Consignor Canadian Fine Art (formerly Consignor.ca a division of Mayberry Fine Arts) has lured both Cowley and Lydia Abbott from Joyner / Waddington’s to serve as partners, along with Ryan Mayberry. The new venture will see online auctions (with catalogues) and previews in gallery space opposite the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.
Meanwhile, over at Waddington’s, the Joyner name has slipped into the history books. Geoff Joyner has become senior art advisor to Waddington’s new Canadian Fine Art division, now headed by none other than Linda Rodeck, most recently of Sotheby’s, and a longtime confidante of Joyner.
The auction business seems back in competition and, possibly, in fighting form with new ideas, new positions and new names. So the fall may be a lively season. Of course, with many consignments finding their way out dealers’ doors directly to private buyers, and quietness in the overall art market, locating the right piece can be a challenge.
But, in my view, quality Canadian art is undervalued and the market still has room to grow. So let’s all hope for positive outcomes.
FALL 2013 AUCTION DATES
Oct. 20: Lando Art Auctions, Edmonton – landoauctions.com
Nov. 3: Levis Fine Art Auctions, Calgary – levisauctions.com
Nov. 6: Maynards Fine Art & Antiques, Vancouver – maynardsfineart.com
Nov. 25: Waddington’s Canadian Fine Art, Toronto – waddingtons.ca
Nov. 25: Hodgins Art Auctions, Calgary – hodginsauctions.com
Nov. 28: Heffel Fine Art, Toronto – heffel.com
Nov. 29: Consignor Canadian Fine Art (online only) – consignor.ca