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.”
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.