The auction record for contemporary Canadian art was broken earlier this month in New York with Christie’s $3.6 million sale of a Jeff Wall photograph. Now, Canada’s top houses are heading into their spring sales hoping to break more records.
The Heffel auctions are first up, taking place on May 17 at the Vancouver Convention Centre, with the Canadian postwar and contemporary art sale starting at 4 p.m. and the fine Canadian art sale starting at 7 p.m.
“We had a milestone last May where the postwar section surpassed the fine Canadian art sales total for the first time,” says president David Heffel over the phone from Vancouver. “That’s an indicator of the growing interest in postwar and contemporary Canadian work, both in volume of consignments that our firm is accepting and the dollar value that is being received. Many of those consignments are setting new records for the artists.”
Between both of its sales, Heffel is auctioning 185 lots expected to bring $9 million to $12 million total.
Highlights of the Heffel lots include Emily Carr’s Eagle Totem, estimated at $600,000 to $800,000; Jean-Paul Lemieux’s La plage américaine, estimated at $500,000 to $700,000; and a Lawren Harris sketch of Lake Superior estimated at $400,000 to $600,000. (Heffel has sold 8 of the 10 top-priced works by Carr, holds the auction record for Lemieux’s work and obtained the Harris sketch from a UK consignor who only realized its value recently after viewing the popular Group of Seven survey at the Dulwich Picture Gallery.)
On the living-artist front, BC painter Gordon Smith has nine works in the Heffel auction, including 1960’s White Painting #2, estimated at $60,000 to $80,000; Newfoundlander Christopher Pratt’s 1973 painting Landing is offered, estimated at $60,000 to $80,000; and there are also a couple of sketches by Nova Scotia’s Alex Colville estimated at $15,000 to $20,000 each.
Next up for Canadian collectors is Sotheby’s auction of important Canadian art, which takes place May 24 at 7 p.m. at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum. (A Montreal preview takes place at Arsenal on May 17, while Toronto previews happen at the ROM on May 22, 23 and 24.)
Highlights of Sotheby’s 140 lots include classic Canadiana as well as some less conventional picks.
Robert Clow Todd’s circa-1840 painting Sledges and Figures Skating on the Frozen Lake in Front of Montmorency Falls, for instance, focuses on a well-known natural wonder: the ice cone that develops at the Quebec City attraction when the river below the falls freezes. With the Art Gallery of Ontario holding one of Todd’s other paintings on this subject, Sotheby’s has estimated this lot at $150,000 to $200,000.
Familiar names on the Canadian auction scene continue to crop up at Sotheby’s, with Paul-Émile Borduas’ 1955 palette-knife painting Froissement Multicolore (one of his last New York–based canvases) estimated at $350,000 to $500,000; Lawren Harris’ Mountain Sketch XCI (Mountain on the Athabasca River) estimated at $400,000 to $600,000; Jean-Paul Lemieux’s poignant 1965 portrait L’Emigré estimated at $180,000 to $220,000; and Marc-Aurèle Fortin’s homage to French-Canadian life Scène de Val Jalbert estimated at $80,000 to $120,000.
Less conventional as an offering is Interior, a Cubist-influenced painting by Fritz Brandtner. This German-born artist moved to Canada in 1928 as the Nazi party tightened its grip on German culture, but his style, Sotheby’s suggests, was “perhaps too avant-garde” for Canada at the time. The painting, which suggests the influences of Léger and Picasso, is estimated at $15,000 to $25,000.
Wrapping up Canada’s spring auction season is Joyner Waddington’s sale of important Canadian art, which takes place May 25 at 10 a.m. at the company’s King Street East showroom in Toronto. (Previews take place May 22, 23 and 24 at the same site.)
Highlights of Joyner Waddington’s 201 lots include Group of Seven artist Franklin Carmichael’s Lone Lake, one of the earliest of the painter’s larger-scale studio watercolours. Lone Lake, located in northern Ontario, was renamed Carmichael Lake in the late 1970s, and the painting, recently exhibited at the McMichael, is estimated at $300,000 to $350,000. (Joyner has achieved the top three prices for Franklin Carmichael at auction, with his Frood Lake selling for a top price of $915,000 at Joyner’s Fall 2002 auction.)
William Kurelek, another perennial auction-season favourite, is represented by five works at Joyner Waddington’s, ranging from the painting After Church During Indian Summer (The Kavanagh Homestead, Bancroft), which is estimated at $60,000 to $80,000, to Someone with Me, an illustration for the original cover of William Kurelek’s autobiography, which is estimated at $15,000 to $20,000.
Canada’s urban history also gets an unexpected spotlight with two George Theodore Berthon portraits depicting members of the Denison family. The Denisons were a prominent Toronto family from the founding of York in the 1790s through to after the First World War, and the portraits of Lieutenant-Colonel George Taylor Denison I and Lieutenant-Colonel George Taylor Denison II, painted in the mid-19th century, are estimated by Joyner Waddington’s at $30,000 to $40,000 each.
David Blackwood, currently the focus of a touring survey organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario, has five works going under the gavel on King Street East: four prints and one of the largest original paintings by Blackwood ever offered at auction, Ephraim Kelloway’s Red Door, which estimated at $25,000 to $30,000.
Also of interest on the contemporary front are four Greg Curnoe works up for sale through Joyner Waddington’s, including one of his late 1970s Mariposa T.T. serigraphs on Plexiglas, which bears an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000.