Art Toronto: Collector’s Experience

Contemporary artists are generally shown at one to three galleries. Every year or so, these galleries will host a solo exhibition of the artist’s new work. Finding a good selection of their work is a straightforward process.  

A major challenge for collectors when sourcing Canadian historic art is that generally, a famous historic artist’s inventory is spread out over several galleries – and most galleries only have at most a couple examples of an artist’s work in their inventory at a time. And so, knowing what is available across the market means visiting a lot of galleries.

Art Toronto brings together a large cross section of Canadian galleries under one roof. It’s an opportunity for collectors to get a more global sense of what Canadian historic art is available for sale. It’s also an opportunity to compare gallery prices.

The challenge of Art Toronto, for collectors, is navigating the fair. Trying to find a Jack Bush, a Jean-Paul Lemieux or a William Perehudoff among all the installation and contemporary art can feel like a scavenger hunt.

For collectors or Canadian art enthusiasts looking to see Canadian historic art, this post will help you discover the different famous Canadian artists showing at Art Toronto and show you where to find them. 

Early Canadian Art

One critique I have of the fair is the lack of representation of early 19th century Canadian art. Over the past five years Art Toronto has made its focus international and contemporary art. Important Canadian historic art Galleries like Loch Gallery, Mayberry Fine Art and Alan Klinkhoff don’t show at the fair and it means we don’t see many early Canadian painters like Cornelius Krieghoff, William Brymner or Frederic Verner.   


This year, Montréal’s Galerie Claude Lafitte and Calgary’s Masters Gallery are both showing works from the Canadian Impressionist movement. In the 1880’s, early Canadian artists started traveling to France to study art. These painters were exposed to French Impressionism and their work explores broken colour and brushy mark making.

Three artists for collectors to watch out for at the fair from this impressionist period are Clarence Gagnon, Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté, and Paul Peel. Gagnon and Suzor-Coté are excellent examples of artists who adapted the French Impressionist style to depict the Quebec winter landscape. They exploited the movements obsession with colour to incorporate hues of purple, pink and blue into their snow scenes. 

Group of Seven

The Group of Seven is considered Canada’s most iconic painting group. Their work helped usher early Canadian art into the modern era. From 1913 to 1933, these artists worked to create a uniquely Canadian painting language. It wasn’t until the Laing Galleries opened in the 1930’s that collectors discovered their art.

According to the Art Toronto program there should be an A.J. Casson paintings on view at both the Roberts Gallery (Toronto), and Oeno Gallery (Prince Edward County). The youngest member of the Group of Seven, Casson joined the group in 1926 at the invitation of Franklin Carmichael. He continued to paint well into the post war era.

The Group of Seven are best known for pure landscape subjects. However, Casson is equally celebrated for his large scale works that show scenes of village life. His interpretation of clouds is similar in aesthetic to the mountain forms, in the Algoma and Lake Superior paintings, done by Lawren Harris. Both artist incorporate a sense of pure geometric forms into their art to express the essence of nature.

For collectors looking for Group of Seven art, JEH MacDonald, Lawren Harris and Emily Carr will also be on view.


Jean-Paul Lemieux is an artist whose work acts as a bridge between the Modern and Abstract periods of art in Quebec. A student of Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté (on view at Galerie Claude Lafitte), he has a strong connection to the classical tradition. But his work is all about expression and shapes. While his work remains figurative, we can feel the pull towards abstraction that would define the work of his contemporaries.

Lemieux is not a household name like artists from the Group of Seven, but he consistently performs well at auction and is sought after by collectors. He is an artist worth noting.

This year three galleries will be showing his work at Art Toronto, including Masters Gallery, Galerie Claude Lafitte, and Miriam Shiell Fine Art. Just looking at the galleries who represent Lemieux speaks to the hybrid nature of his work. Lafitte and Masters are known for their focus on early and modern art, while Miriam Shiell specializes in abstract art (and is known to bring a couple good examples of the New York school of Abstract Expressionism for collectors to see at Art Toronto).

Marc-Aurele Fortin, Maud Lewis and Peter Clapham Sheppard will also be on view.  

Canadian Abstract Art

Colour Fields

A fun game to play at Art Toronto: test your ability to tell the difference between a Jack Bush and a William Perehudoff painting. These two Colour Field artists are both known for large, thinly painted, abstract paintings of floating shapes. Part of the crossover in their art is from the long lasting relationship they both had with the New York art critic and collector Clement Greenberg.

The trick to spotting the differences is to know a little about their biographies. Bush was a Toronto illustrator who spent a good deal of time in New York with artists from the Abstract Expressionist movement. His colours and the sense of narrative in his Colour Fields work come from his background as an illustrator.

Perehudoff was from Saskatoon, and part of the Emma Lake Workshop. His choice in colour and shape is influenced by the prairie landscape. Compared to Bush, his colours are more muted and earthy. Throughout the fair collectors can see works by landscape painters Greg Hardy and Dorothy Knowles who were part of the same Emma Lake Workshop. Comparing Perehudoff’s Colour Fields work to his landscape contemporaries makes his connection to the land more obvious.

Miriam Shiell and Masters Gallery will both be showing works by Jack Bush, and William Perehudoff will be on view at Han Art (Montreal), Masters Gallery, and Rukaj Gallery (Toronto). 

Abstract Expressionism

So far I have counted four Jean-Paul Riopelle paintings and prints expected to be on view at Art Toronto. Riopelle holds the top spot for total auction sales for a Canadian artist. There is a healthy appetite for his work in Canada but also abroad. Riopelle was part of an international group of artists working in post-war Paris. He was also part of the famous Pierre Matisse Gallery. His relationship to international artists like Joan Mitchell and Zao Wou-Ki mean that his work still sells internationally at auction. Because of the popularity of his work, it is no surprise to see so many of his works on view at the fair.

Another member of the Automatiste movement with a presence at this year’s fair is Rita Letendre. She will be showing at Masters Gallery, Galeries Claude Lafitte, and Rumi Galleries (Oakville).

Like many female artists of her generation, her work was given its dues late in her career. In 2003-2004 she had her first retrospective at the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec and in 2017 the Art Gallery of Ontario presented a solo show of her work. In the past couple years the price of female artists from this period has been growing. Many were overlooked in their prime, and now we are seeing their price grow and catch up to their male counter parts.

There is a long list of Abstract painters on view at the fair. Both Painters Eleven and the Automatiste movement are well represented. For collectors looking to compare stock and price, the following artists will be shown at multiple galleries: Paul-Emile Borduas, Paterson Ewen, Ray Mead, Richard Gorman, Ron Martin, and William Ronalds.

Art Toronto Collector’s Experience

Join me the weekend of October 25-27, 2019, for a 90 minute private tour of the Art Toronto fair.

Building on what we have discussed in this post, we will use the different examples of famous Canadian painters, on view at Art Toronto, to explain how historic paintings are priced.

Why is a Lawren Harris painting done between 1918 and 1927 worth more than his later abstract work?

How does the Harris on view at Art Toronto compare to the Harris painting consigned to the Heffel Fine Art Auction House by Steve Martin?

To answer these questions, we will discuss the seven steps to evaluate fine art. We will also discuss buying art at a gallery compared to buying art at auction.

These tours are for anyone who wants to understand how the art market works before they consider buying Canadian Fine Art. 

Register now for your Collector’s Experience.

Buying for an Art Collection

Frederick Arthur Verner (1836-1928), Evening Encampment, 1876, Oil on Canvas, 14″ x 28″; 35.6 cms x 71.1 cms

The cliche in the art world is to say “buy what you love”. I agree that personal taste should be the driving force in choosing fine art to consider for purchase. But once you’ve determined a painting of interest there are a host of factors that should be taken into account before you buy for an art collection. Although each artwork requires a set of unique considerations, I have a template or process that helps guide me as I consider paintings for a collection.

Notable Acquisition    

In Spring 2019 I had the great pleasure of working with a client to purchase Evening Encampment, by Frederick Verner, at the Canadian & Inuit Fine Art auction held at Waddington’s Auction House.  

Auction Details:

Frederick Arthur Verner (1836 – 1928), Evening Encampment, 1876

Oil on Canvas, Signed and Dated, 14″ x 28″

Lot 41, May 27, 2019, Waddington’s Auction House

Price Estimate: $30,000 – $40,000; Realised Price: $66,000

Using this notable acquisition as an example, I will walk you through my decision making process when evaluating art for a collection. This painting was purchased at auction, so this article also gives an overview of how I prepare to bid at auction.

What are the steps to evaluate fine art?

  1. Find out if the artist is part of any major collections and if they are the subject of scholarly research.
  2. Compare the painting’s subject to other works by the artist.
  3. Determine what period in the artist’s career the work was painted. 
  4. Compare the paintings size to other works by the artist. The general rule of thumb is bigger is better. 
  5. Ask for a condition report or have the painting evaluated by a professional restorer. 
  6. Research the provenance of the work 
  7. Use public auction records to determine the fair market value of an artist. 

Step 1: The Artist

When evaluating an artist, I look to see if their work is collected by Museums or important private collectors; if they have had a recent exhibition nationally or internationally and if and how many books have been written about the artist. 

Frederick Arthur Verner

There is one seminal book written on the work of Verner, The Last Buffalo, by the acclaimed Canadian Art Scholar Joan Murray. 

His work is part of a long list of museum collections including the Art Gallery of Ontario, the National Gallery of Canada and the Glenbow Museum. His last major exhibition was at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1920. 

From all of this I can determine that Frederick Verner has an important place in Canadian culture. But given the delay since his last retrospective we know that contemporary interest is not at the same level as that of an artist like Jean-Paul Riopelle or Emily Carr – who have both had museum shows in the last five year. 

Step 2: Subject

If I’m considering buying a work for a collection, we’ve already determined that the image captures my client on a visceral level. At this stage I want to understand the significance of the subject in terms of the artist’s overall production. 

The aim is to indicate work that has a series of pictorial elements that showcase what makes this artist unique and great. Here I’m relying on the opinion of Canadian Fine Art scholars who have researched and written about the artist. I also spend a lot of time looking at images by the artist in art books and at art museums.  

First Nation life in Manitoba

Verner is best known for his watercolours and oils of First Nation life in Manitoba. He is also very well known for his scenes of Buffalos on the prairies. Having actually visited and sketched Manitoba, his work is praised for its authentic depiction of 19th century Western Canada. 

Verner is part of the Romantic movement that was popular in Europe and North America in the 19th century. Like other Romantic painters, he is known for his ability to create a sense of emotion through expressive skies and atmosphere.  

In the later part of his career he moves to Europe and paints the British countryside. These are not considered as innovative as his scenes of First Nation life in Manitoba. 

The Encampment scene we are considering has a lot of key Verner elements. It is a beautiful scene of the historic First Nation culture and the scene takes place under a dramatic night sky. 

Step 3: Date

Another indicator of a paintings importance is it’s date. There is a life cycle to an artists career. Usually an artist will have an early period where they are still finding their voice. A middle period where they have success and make their name as an artist. And finally, a late period when they slow down and the work becomes less interesting. For some artists the opposite is true: they are best known for their early work.  

Period after his trip to Manitoba

Verner’s best period is considered to be from approximately 1873 to 1900 (although his later Buffalo paintings maintain their status). In 1873 he is documented as travelling west to Manitoba for the first time. During his prime period, his work is based on plein air sketches from that trip and others he did to see his subject. In the 1880s he moves to London and after 1900 he stops visiting Canada. His later work of First Nation life is criticized as less authentic.  

Of course it’s interesting to have examples of every period in an artist’s career. For most collector’s, however, there are financial restraints. So when you can’t have it all, date is another way to prioritize when buying for an art collection.  

The work we are considering is dated 1876, right after his most famous trip west, this is a great date!

Step 4: Size

As a general rule, larger works are valued more than smaller works. What is considered big or small depends on each artist. For post-war abstract artists canvases at 40” x 60” can be considered mid sized or even small. 

Historic art from the 19th century was painted on a much smaller scale. In Canadian Fine art from that period it is rare to find paintings larger than 36” x 48” and anything over 17” x 25” is considered big. 

Typically an artist like Verner work ranges from 14” x 20” to 20” x 30”. Although the artist was known to do some larger canvases. The National Gallery of Canada is home to what is considered Verner’s Chef d’Oeuvre, The Upper Ottawa, 1882, which measures nearly 6 feet wide.    

A painting like Encampment, 14” x 27”, would be considered a mid to large painting for the artist. 

Step 5: Condition

With historic art you are dealing with objects that are upwards of 150 years old. When buying for an art collection, it is very rare to find something in pristine condition with no restoration. So when considering the condition of the work, I’m not so concerned if the work has had restoration. My concern is how it was done and to what extent. 

The rule of thumb is less is more. First, I’m looking to see that inpainting (paint added by a restorer) is minimal. Next, I’m looking for signs that the canvas might need further restoration. Signs could include loose or slack canvas, pronounced craclure on paint surface, surface abrasions and paint discolouration. When I’m not sure, I get an official condition report from a professional restorer. 

Add value 

This painting was one of the very very rare cases where the painting had almost no restoration. The painting was on its original stretchers and was not relined. Most surprisingly, there were no signs of inpainting on the surface of the work.  

One issue I noticed, when viewing the painting at the auction house, was that the blue of the sky looked somewhat yellowed. The yellowing was due to the unavoidable build up of dust and dirt that occurs over time. This can be resolved, without too much hassle, by taking the work to a restorer and having the work cleaned. 

Overall this work was in incredible condition. What is more, by making a small investment to have the work professionally cleaned there was an opportunity to add value to painting. 

As part of the collection management process, I made sure to save all invoices and condition reports done by the restorer in our collection files. This kind of documentation will add value when my client chooses to sell or donate the work. 

Step 6: Provenance

The provenance of a painting is anything that can trace the history of the physical painting. This information helps to prove that the painting is authentic. An ideal provenance traces the sale history of a painting from its current owner back to the artist. Provenance can be labels from important galleries, an exhibition record or reproduction in an important book.

In Canadian Art it’s usual to see works with limited provenances. The art trade of Canadian art was only really established in the 1930’s and before that people owning Canadian paintings didn’t think to keep invoices or other documentation. 

A painting with a limited provenance is not a deterrent for me as an art advisor. Having said that a good provenance does add value to the painting.

The Verner being considered does not have provenance that would add to the paintings value.     

Step 6: Price 

Ok, so hopefully now you share my enthusiasm for this wonderful painting by Verner! Now it is time to consider price. 

Most clients build a collection out of a creative impulse, not as a way to make money. But if you are going to buy Canadian Fine Art, it requires a big investment. As part of my evaluation process, I am looking to find works that I believe will maintain their value over time.  

To evaluate the offer price of a work, I look at the auction results for similar paintings by the artist. Going through the records I found four auction results between 2003 and 2015 that were similar to the Verner up for consideration. With the information I find, I create a spreadsheet:

LotDate of SaleTitleEstimateRealised Price
Lot 41May 2018Evening Encampment30,000 – 40,000$66,00
Lot 54 Nov 2015Ojibway Camp 25,000 – 30,000$94,400
Lot 139 Nov 2008Indian Encampment80,000 – 120,000lot not sold
Lot 225 Nov 1988Indian Encampment*40,000 – 50,000$60,500
Lot 82 May 2004Ojibway Indian Encampment10,000 – 15,000$34,500
Lot 159A May 2003Indians Tending Birchbark Canoes15,000 – 20,000$32,200

The first row represents the painting I am considering as a purchase for my client’s collection. The last two columns show the price estimate and the realised price. The price estimate is given by the auction before the sale. The realised price is how much the painting sells for (including the buyer’s premium or the fee paid to the auction house). 

Most recently, I see that in 2015 a similar painting Lot 54 sold for $94,400, three times its original estimate. For three of the sales the realised price went above the high estimate. Which suggests that the value of this kind of subject is growing. 

There is one outlier to this trend, in 2008 the painting did not sell. There are a lot of reasons a painting won’t sell at auction (including bad luck). I did some digging into my auction records and found out that this same painting was offered as lot 225 and sold at auction in 1988 for $60,500. My hunch is that this painting may have failed to sell because the estimate was too high (and scared off potential buyers).

Given the fairly consistent growth in price, I anticipate the work will sell above its $30,000-$40,000 estimate. It is not clear if the painting will match the 2015 price given the failed sale of 2008. 

To get a sense of how high the price could go, I look at the overall top auction sale prices for oil paintings by Verner. His top auction record for an oil painting is $188,000 in 2015 for a painting called Indians Shooting the Rapids (lot 138), sold by Heffel. This is a unique sale. The subject of the painting is very rare and is a sought after scene showing a group canoeing down the rapids. More typically the top end of Verner’s market seems to fall between $40,000 and $70,000.

Buying at auction

Because we felt the subject, size, date and condition were all exceptional we decided to proceed with the purchase.

When buying at auction, I register as the bidder. My client emails the auction house their personal and billing information and authorises me to bid on their behalf. 

With all of the price information, my client and I decide on a maximum bid before the auction. The night of the auction I’m not making any new decisions. We have a clear plan of action and we don’t let the excitement of the night sway our emotions.  

I’m pleased to say that on this occasion we successfully purchased the painting Evening encampment by Frederick Verner for $66,000. 

2019 Spring Auction – Canadian Fine Art

May is an exciting month for Canadian Art! At the end of the month is spring auction week in Toronto! Several of the top Canadian auction houses will be hosting live auctions of Canadian fine art. Live auction sales happening the week of May 27 in Toronto include: Waddington’s Live Auction, Consignor Live Auction and Heffel Live Auction.

As an art advisor, I look forward to going through the auction catalogues from the different auction houses to see what great art will be up for sale. 

About a week before, they open their doors to the public showcasing the work that will go up for auction. Going around to the different previews feels a bit like a spring Art Toronto. I love going to these previews because you get to see a lot of amazing Canadian art that isn’t on display in the museums. It’s a great way to get to know artists outside the regular cannon. 

A Review of Available Art at Auction

As an art consultant my main area of research is early Canadian Art. As I walk around the auction preview, I’m always looking for good examples of 19th and early 20th century painting. But there is always something from the Post-War section that catches my eye!

In these preliminary visits I’m not thinking about price or provenance, I’m engaging with the work on an aesthetic level and deciding what is worth more consideration.  

Great brushwork by Laura Muntz

One piece I’m particularly excited to see this year is a lovely portrait, Lady in White, by Laura Muntz, up for sale at Waddinton’s Auction House. Muntz is considered part of the Canadian Impressionist movement. I would nuance that and describe her as a Tonalist and place her with artists like Andres Zorn, John Singer Sarger or Cecilia Beaux. Like these artists Muntz is showy with her brushwork.

laura muntz waddintons
Laura Muntz. Lady in White

The portrait on view is a great example of this. There is an intriguing debate in the catalogue about the name of the sitter. Apparently the work was sold to the last owners as an official portrait of a Mrs. Reid. But the auction house argues that there is evidence in a book by the renowned scholar Joan Murray that the portrait was actually a former roommate of the artist.

In my own research I came across a secound painting of a woman in the same dress, called ‘Woman Reading’. This would suggest the later story is true as it would be odd that the painter would supply the dress for a formal portrait.

More importantly the repetition of the dress tells us something about the artists focus. This isn’t a portrait this is a fabric study. The dress of the sitter is a playground for the artist to make subtle temperature shifts and bold brush strokes! She’s showing off her technique! I couldn’t help but recall the beautiful fabric studies of Leonardo di Vinci.

Group of Seven and Helen Galloway McNicoll

Another top pick is Girl in the Field by Helen Galloway McNicoll on view at Heffel Fine Art Auction House. McNicoll is a turn of the century artist who is classified as part of the Canadian impressionist group. Like the other artist she studied in Europe and her work explores colour and brushwork.

helen mcnicoll heffel
Helen Galloway McNicoll , Girl in the Field

She paints women and children outdoors and it would be easy to group her with other ‘women artists’ like Berthe Morisot who painted a similar subject. I believe McNicoll would have wanted us to look beyond subject. I think she painted women and kids because that’s what was respectable for a woman of her time to paint. But I’m going to be bold and argue that she wasn’t really thinking about the kids.

Seeing her work I couldn’t help but think about her in terms of the Group of Seven. Their subject is Northern Ontario but that’s not what the work is about. It’s all about style and self expression.

McNicoll is a bold painter. She plays a lot with strong contrasts of light and dark and cool and warm. In this painting she has her main subject in a cool shadow. Our eye is drawn to the girls face which matches the tree in tone but is set apart with it’s orange hue (she’s playing with the blue-orange complementary). The larger shadow shape sits on the bright sunlit background. Her master stroke is the girls white headscarf. Although it sits within the large shadow it is about half a step lighter than anything else. It breaks the girl from the tree so that we can read her silhouette more clearly.

A New Discovery, Frederick Nicholas Loveroff

Visiting the auction preview at Consignor Canadian Fine Arts, I was introduced to the work of Frederick Nicholas Loveroff. I was quite taken by this lovely landscape called Farm Scene.

Frederick Nicholas Loveroff
Frederick Nicholas Loverroff, Farm Scene

A contemporary of the Group of Seven, Loveroff was a Western Canadian artist with family roots in Russia. His paint handling and colour is similar to the Group of Seven artists but his composition is completely different.

Look how high the horizon line is! Two-thirds of the canvas is white snow! It’s bold and radically different to the Group of Seven approach that favoured a silhouette composition. Artists like Tom Thomson are best known for works like the iconic Jack Pine where the design of the work centers on a dark foreground set on a light background.

What’s so interesting about comparing these two works is that we can see how the landscape has guided the artists design choices. The prairies are defined by a sense that you can see the flat landscape for miles. By keeping the horizon high Loveroff gives his painting that expansive feel of the prairies. A region like Algonquin (where the Group of Seven famously painted) is a thick forest set against a large bright body of water. The comparison reminds us how much our environment influences our ideas. A great new discovery for me!

Early Jack Bush

Jumping ahead to post-war abstract art, Heffel has an intriguing Jack Bush titled Red Vision from 1958 on view. I love this piece because it shows us the artists thinking process.

jack bush heffel
Jack Bush, Red Vision

This work represents the period right before he found his groove. In a work like this he is trying to think abstract. Bush was trained as an illustrator and had his own illustration studio. When he first started painting abstract works he would pencil in his shapes before painting them in.

When the American art critic Clement Greenberg saw his work he told him to lose the pencil. This first generation of Abstract Expressionism was all about the automatic process. No planning just make a mark and then respond with another (and another). It seems easy. But it’s really hard to get yourself into a headspace where you are not planning!

I love the red blob because we can see how he massed it in. He probably started with a mark and then scrubbed his brush outwards to build this organic shape. Look at how the outline of the shape is frayed. These imperfect lines carry over into his later work. It gives his minimalist style a sense of energy and a human touch. This work is all about experimentation!

It is so easy to stick to what you already know. I have such admiration for artists like Jack Bush who spent their whole career pushing beyond their comfort zone and redefining their art.

Key Dates

This year’s live auction sessions will be held in Toronto on the following days:

Waddington’s Live Auction: Monday, May 27, 7PM, 275 King Street East, 2nd Floor

Consignor Live Auction: Tuesday, May 28, 7PM, 111 Queens Park

Heffel Live Auction: Wednesday, May 29, 4 PM Post-War & Contemporary Art, 7 PM Canadian Impressionist & Modern Art , Design Exchange, Toronto

How to Price Art

The New York Times recently published a great article on art investing. While the art market acts differently to more traditional capital markets that doesn’t mean it’s totally irrational.

There is an old adage that says you should buy art based on what you love. In the New York Times article the art advisor B.J. Topol adds to that idea, saying, “If you combine your passion with an informed decision, you’ll have something you love every day and maybe it goes up one day.”

So when you are considering the purchase of a painting what information should you seek out?

Evaluating the price of Fine Art

The greatest challenge when purchasing art is determining fair market value. Sale price of works sold through galleries or private dealers are not made public. The best way to gauge a works value is to look at the public auction record for an artist.

There are several websites that aggregate auction results into a database. I personally use Art Price.

Looking at the long term performance of an artist’s work will give you a sense of how their market is performing. Generally artists in the secondary market will enjoy a period of accelerated growth (usually due to promotion by an important collector or curator). Nothing lasts forever and you can expect a market correction when tastes change. After which artists of historic importance will resume growth but at a slower rate.

Cornelius Krieghoff is a good example of an artist who enjoyed strong growth in the 80s when the prominent collector Ken Thomson was actively collecting his work. In the 2000s he lost his position as the most sought after artist to more modern artists like Lawren Harris. Although he doesn’t make the same kind of headlines now, we still see growth in his market. And he is still considered one of the top 10 Canadian Artists at Auction. Spring 2018, Crossing the Ice with the Royal Mail, by Krieghoff broke his previous auction record with a realised price of $456,000.

Public auction records give a ballpark measure of an artist’s current price. Generally galleries will charge a higher price than auction houses. It’s not unusual to see a 15-20% difference in price between galleries and auction houses.

Period of Production and Price

Different periods of an artists career will be valued differently. For most of the Group of Seven painters the early period when they were working as a group is considered their most important. So works done before 1932 (when the group disbanded) are generally higher in price. 

In determining an artist’s best period the market will generally look to academic scholarship. As an art advisor I have a whole library of academic books on Canadian art. A great place to find book recommendations are auction catalogues (which are also available online). Generally in the blurb on an available works they will site important books that make reference to the work on offer.

Another great resource are the writings of art dealers. For anyone interested in Canadian art, I highly recommend the two autobiographies by G. Blair Laing. Laing is a seminal figure in historic Canadian art. In his books he goes through all of the artist he represented (which includes most of the Group of Seven) and names their most important period of production. More than some of the academic texts Laing understands how the date on a painting is used to price art. 

Condition of the Work a Hidden Cost

It’s important to understand that when dealing with historic works there will always be some imperfection. Given that some of these works can be over a hundred years old, I would be suspicious of any work that have no signs of aging.

For a new collector the easiest way to insure quality is to work with reputable galleries that have been in the market for an extended period. Galleries stake their reputation on selling quality and if they have been around for over 10 years you can generally buy with confidence.

Having said that, as an art advisor, there are a couple questions I will always ask before considering a work for a client.  One issue I do see come up with oil paintings on offer is excessive inpainting. Inpainting is the introduction of new paint into areas of paint loss on a canvas. Again with historic works it is typical to see some amount of inpainting. If it’s just a small amount near the frame (where typically paint loss occurs), I don’t see an issue. Sometimes, unfortunately, a previous owner had big sections of the painting worked over. Generally (unless it’s the Salvator Mundi) the market will penalize excessive inpainting.

A Good Provenance adds value 

Provenance is the history of ownership attached to a painting. In the Canadian art market a lot of fine art doesn’t have a long provenance. Again if we are purchasing from a reputable gallery, a limited provenance is no deterrent.

If a work does come with a good provenance you can expect the work to have a higher market value (taking the other factors into consideration).

 A good example of this is the Tom Thomson painting discovered in an Edmonton basement and sold at Heffel last spring. Thomson gifted the sketch to the son of the Group of Seven’s J.E.H. MacDonald in 1915 and the painting was later acquired by a reverend at Toronto’s Emmanuel College, who in 1937 gave it to a fellow minister, who was the father of the most recent owner. Having records that trace a work back to the artist studio acts as a kind of proof of authenticity. This can ad a great deal of value to the painting. 

Buying Art

Collecting should be fun. That means buying art that speaks to you. Most collectors build collections as an expression of creativity or an interest in history. Working with the facts is simply a way to bring a level of clarity and security to the process. Understanding the actual and potential value of an artwork allows a collector to build a bolder more diverse collection.

Press: Canadian Art Magazine

I was recently featured in Canadian Art magazine to give my take on the fall auction week!

Interview on Canada’s Fall Auctions

Montreal artist and art consultant Courtney Clinton, for one, believes that some works by Lawren Harris, A.J. Casson and Arthur Lismer—particularly those that veered away from classic forested landscapes—performed worse than expected at Canada’s fall auctions. She points out that Lismer’s Tugs and Troop Carrier, Halifax Harbour (1921), which was on the cover of the Heffel Canadian Impressionist and Modern Art catalogue, was hammered down slightly below its low estimate. A.J. Casson’s The Village Mill (1937) was also hammered down for just above its low estimate. And while a few of Harris’s popular mountain scenes did well, his Water Tower (1919) went on the low end of estimate at Waddington’s.

“I’m not saying these artists aren’t doing well,” says Clinton, “but I think there was a hope [their markets] could branch out beyond landscapes and it just didn’t perform that way.”

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Reflecting on Canada’s Fall Auctions, Beyond the Big Sales

2018 Fall Auction – Canadian Fine Art

The week of November 19th, 2018 Canada’s two major auction houses, Heffel Fine Art Auction House and Waddington’s Auction House, hosted major live auctions of Canadian Fine Art.

Watching the live auction is a great way to gauge the temperature of the Canadian art market. 

Highlights from the Auction Sale

Two artists who made a big splash were Frederick Banting and Peter Clapham Sheppard, both contemporaries of the Canadian Art icons the Group of Seven. In many ways their success at these Canadian fine art auction sales was foreseeable.

Frederick Banting, The Lab, 1925

Frederick Banting enjoyed much of the media coverage leading up to the Heffel sale thanks to his 1925 painting, “The Lab”, which shows his actual lab where he did his nobel prize winning research. The work sold for 10 times over the asking price, selling for an impressive $313,250. Another Banting work, Cottage in a Wooded Landscape, sold at the Waddington’s auction for $27,600 – almost three times its high estimate. 

Peter Clapham Sheppard, Elizabeth St, Toronto

The Peter Clapham Sheppard success owes much to the recent publication of a Canadian art scholarly book on his work by Tom Smart, Director and CEO of the Beaverbrook Art Gallery. Waddington’s publicized the book in their own auction catalogue and had the book on sale at the live auction. A total of four of his paintings were on offer across the two houses and they all did very well. “Elizabeth St, Toronto”, a larger urban scene, went four times over its estimate and sold for $204,000. The remaining three all met or surpassed the initial estimates, suggesting strong interest in the artist’s art.

Great Sales for Quebec Art

Three Quebec Artists had highlight sales at auction, including Marc-Aurele Fortin, Clarence Gagnon and Robert Pilot.

Marc-Aurele Fortin, Vue de Longueuil, c. 1930

Like Sheppard, Fortin has an authentic claim to the subject of working class life. Starting in 1925, Fortin moved to Hochelaga, a working class neighbourhood in eastern Montreal. His painting of the same subject, “Vue de Longueuil”, on sale at Heffel went well over it’s initial asking of $40,000 – $60,000, selling for $109,250. Over at Waddington’s, the only other lot by the artist, “Storm Effect, St. Eustache” – a small landscape – also did well and sold at auction for above its estimate at $13,200.

Clarence Gagnon, Late Afternoon, c. 1908-1913

Another highlight was an iconic Gagnon on offer at Heffel. “Late Afternoon Sun” roughly dated between 1908 and 1913. The work showcases why Gagnon is a famous Canadian artist. Gagnon is best known for this subject of snow and sunlight at dusk in a Quebec village. Selling at $253,250 it squeaked past the high estimate of $250,000. Two other paintings of European subjects sold within their estimate. One work went unsold, an early academic style painting of a weaver. This unsold painting reminds us how different periods of an artist are judged differently by the market. 

Robert Pilot, Wolfe’s Cove

Finally, I’ve always been a fan of Robert Pilot and his, “Wolfe’s Cove” was probably my favorite painting of the night. I wasn’t alone, the work sold at Heffel for three times the high estimate at $91,250. This deceptively tranquil painting is of a historic location. In 1759, in this very spot, the British general James Wolfe and his forces attacked a French post. The battle is considered a pivotal moment in the Seven Years’ War that ultimately saw the city transfer from French to British rule. Looking at the quiet village that now sits there the viewer is invited to consider landscape and memory. The success of the sale shows how many collectors build collections to engage with Canadian history. 

Another six paintings by the artist were on offer across the two houses. They all met their estimates and a second Quebec city subject, “Evening, St. John Gate, Quebec City”, surpassed expectations and sold for $61,250.