This may have been Alberta’s spring of economic discontent, but art sales in the Calgary auctions were reasonable.
Levis Fine Art Auctions had a good start with a small but fascinating etching by Sybil Andrews. It had an estimate of $600 to $800, but sold at $10,530. The sale also had a small spark of a panel that Peter Whyte painted in 1932 in the shadow of Mount Assiniboine. It was great to see it sell at $28,000. Over all, historical works by strong local artists did reasonably well.
Sybil Andrews, "The Yard at Night" #4/5
Peter Whyte, "Untitled - Sketching Tent in the Rockies", 1932
At Hodgins Art Auctions, also in Calgary, a pleasant surprise was the use of online live bidding amid the live sale chatter in the room. One could hear auctioneer Frank Hall knocking off bids, and even see where the works sold. It’s great to know so many pieces land far outside of Alberta. One big plus of this streaming video session was its clarity.
Highlights included a perfect historical watercolour from 1891 by Frederick A. Verner that sold for $30,000. There was also a large Illingworth Kerr canvas from 1947. They don’t get much better than this rare gem, which sold for $15,000 after a lively floor and phone battle. The sale also featured a large collection of bronzes and some international paintings, including a rare and fabulous Montague Dawson. A British painter, Dawson is considered a master of sailing ships. The work sold over the phone for $160,000, beating its estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. Over all, Hodgins did well.
Frederick Arthur Verner, "Indian Encampment", 1891
Illingworth Holey (Buck) Kerr, "Across the Coulee", circa 1947
Monague Dawson, "Shimmering Horizon"
Auctions at Waddington’s Canadian Fine Art in Toronto were interesting, even viewed online from my home. A piece from a New York collection by Lionel Lemoine Fitzgerald, Grain Silos, Saskatchewan, sold well at over $20,060. One of William Kurelek’s best self-portraits, His Old Man’s Pipe, sold for $64,900. A lively 1946 abstract by Stanley Cosgrove, an artist who is often overlooked, sold easily for $42,480. My favourite abstracts were a 1976 painting by Yves Gaucher that sold for $47,200 and Voyage, by Toronto painter John Meredith, which sold well for $42,480. Both paintings carried estimates of $20,000 to $30,000. It’s always good to see contemporary art find a better price point and a home in a good collection.
Lionel Lemoine Fitzgerald, "Grain Silos, Saskatchewan"
William Kurelek, "His Old Man's Pipe", 1973
Stanley Morel Cosgrove, "Still-life with Journal des Arts", 1946
Yves Gaucher, " Green, Yellow, Red, 1ere version", 1976
John Meredith, "Voyage", 1970-71
One of the best stories was a small work on paper by Jack Bush. It was owned by the original collector via the former Park Gallery in Toronto, and found a new home at $21,240. This 1958 gem likely benefited from the artist’s recent retrospective at the National Gallery of Canada. Finally, Alex Colville’s Sunrise, a 1970 serigraph from an edition of 70, made good value at $30,680. In my view, it’s high time people recognized that his serigraphs are amongst his best work. Over all, it was a good sale with mixed results.
Jack Hamilton Bush, "On an Orange Ground", 1958
Alexander Colville, "Sunrise", 1970, serigraph 62/70
I tried to watch the Heffel Fine Arts sale in Vancouver via live streaming, but between buffering of the site and the challenges of repeated sales, I gave up. Of course, my use of technology is limited as I’m self-taught and over 60. So it’s quite possible I am not up to speed!
Some familiar names appeared. Takao Tanabe did well. Gordon Smith followed known values. Quebec abstraction continued to hold solid prices. And a number of Kureleks sold at strong values. Pleasant surprises came with Pierre Gauvreau and Madeleine Arbour of the Automatistes.
I was also pleased to see an Ivan Eyre, Floodwood, from his more abstract and surreal period, sell at $106,200. These paintings are so original and inventive they elevate the Winnipeg artist into a global context. Other works at Heffel included a W.J. Phillips piece, Karlukwees, B.C., which sold at $56,050. Phillips, I feel, is undervalued as an artist and a printmaker. A sale like this is positive news.
Ivan Kenneth Eyre, "Floodwood", 1979
Walter Joseph (W.J.) Phillips, "Karlukwees, BC", 1929
The other sparks at Heffel were paintings by Emily Carr. Of course, with her recent exhibition in Britain and then at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, it’s expected any strong works will do well. My favourite of the Carr paintings, Forest Light, had an impeccable provenance. It sold well at $1.5 million, against an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000.
Emily Carr, "Forest Light", circa 1931 - 1936
Other quality paintings sold within estimate or beyond. The lack of strong examples of Group of Seven works was notable. These can be rare finds. J.W. Beatty’s Winter Break-Up, Algonquin Park, a prime canvas, sold well at $106,200. This proves again my point that a work’s quality can move collectors into the chase.
John William (J.W.) Beatty, "Winter Break-up, Algonquin Park"
Consignor Canadian Fine Art in Toronto presents live previews of their consignments, and has a responsive platform for bidding, communication and condition checks. A couple of good abstracts caught my eye, including a 1975 Bush work on paper, Quarter Moon, which sold at $41,400. Consignor keeps improving its site and does have a following, so is worth watching.
Jack Bush, "Quarter Moon", 1975
Online sales continue to present a large volume of work. Offerings are made almost monthly and, yes, there are bargains. To my surprise, many pieces are selling. Buyers seem to be watching, and the online sales certainly benefit auction companies and their consignors.
Prices include buyers’ premiums.
Douglas Maclean of Canadian Art Gallery is an art adviser and private dealer in Canmore, Alta.
FALL 2015 AUCTIONS
Consignor Canadian Fine Art (online only) - 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