State of the Art: Canadian Auctions Round-Up

As the bright spotlight dimmed on yet another fascinating New York auction cycle — last week’s focused turned north, to the Canadian auction sales, where Heffel and Waddington’s hosted their Fall sales. Far from the $2.4 billion USD worth of artwork sold in the Big Apple in early November, the much smaller Canadian auction market is growing in strength with a record two days of sales. Heffel, whose total auction sales topped a Canadian auction house record of $23.4m CAD–celebrated its 20th anniversary (coming a long way from just over $1m worth of sales in its inaugural auction). It will come as no surprise that the stars of the show were embedded deep in Canadian art’s historical past, notably the Group of Seven master #Lawren #Harris (the three works on the auction block at Heffel sold for a total of a cool $9.5m CAD). It appears that the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles’ exhibition, “The Idea of the North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris” (that will also be making a stop at the AGO this July, mark your calendars!), broadening the artist and Group’s reach beyond our domestic borders has had a positive impact upon the market. It would be interested to know the buyers’ nationalities (did Americans leave their Thanksgiving tables to make a bid or perhaps was it Chinese billionaire Liu Yiquian, who purchased Modigliani’s “Nu Couché” for $170m USD?). This would be fascinating information to have as to whether Harris’s following is becoming global in nature due to his proliferation across the border.

The majority of the pieces sold at both Heffel auctions blew past high estimates, including a Bess Harris piece “Day’s End” that sold for over 10 times(!) its estimate price, which does leave one to ponder whether the estimates were cautiously and conservatively selected. While the Canadian market for historical & modern works by Canadian artists remains strong and continues to gain strength, I cannot help but wish there was a larger inclusiveness of contemporary artists (no matter how you define this term, either non-traditional artwork created after 1980 or by living artists. Waddington’s Concrete Contemporary auctions do emphasize this pure contemporary focus with bi-annual live and online auctions).  Juxtaposing both older and new works together could be a great platform to help ignite and stimulate the Canadian contemporary secondary market and to promote a younger generation of artists (can we please include artwork by our adopted son, the amazing Peter Doig or the fabulous Julia Dault?). That said, I must tip my hat to Waddington’s for including Kim Dorland’s 2007 piece,”Swimming in the Lake” which sold for $26K (incl. buyer’s premium), an auction record for the artist. When buyers have the opportunity to see the great works by the illustrious Group of Seven and Painters Eleven that are so well-known and loved by Canadians, side-by-side with today’s artists, it helps put newer pieces within the wider art historical canon.

A few highlights from last week’s sales (all prices include buyer’s premium):
Lawren Harris, “Mountain and Glacier” sold for $4.6m CAD (est. $1m – $1.5m)
*Artist Record

Jean Paul Riopelle, “Sans Titre” sold for $1.2m CAD (est. $500K – $700K)

Guido Molinari, “Mutation Rythmique, Rouge-Orange” sold for $248K CAD (est. $100K – $150K)
*Artist Record

William Kurelek, “Our Carolers in Western Canada” sold for $384K CAD (est. $100K – $150K)
*Artist Record

Jack Hamilton Bush, “Low Blue” sold for $129.8K CAD (est. $90K – $120K)

Holly Knows Art.


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