Women artists stole the scene at the Heffel spring auction in Toronto yesterday, with the Modernist Emily Carr and the nonagenarian muralist Rita Letendre sharing the spotlight. The 19th-century Dutch-Canadian painter Cornelius Krieghoff also set a new record with an 1896 canvas. Bidding was conducted virtually from salesrooms in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, since the coronavirus pandemic is still affecting public gatherings in Canada.
Carr’s 1939 Tossed by the Wind sold for a whopping C$3,121,250 ($2.5m), almost double its high estimate, while her 1937 Swirl, once in the collection of the Group of Seven leader Lawren Harris, realised $2,341,250 ($1.9m), also easily surpassing its pre-sale estimate. Both were mature works, which auction house vice-president Robert Heffel called “truly memorable,” were done late in the artist’s career, when she was in her 60s (she died in 1945, aged 73). The are now among the four highest valued works by Carr to come to market, led by The Crazy Stair, which set an auction record for the artist when it made $3.4m ($2.7) at Heffel in 2013.
Another big surprise was Rita Letendre’s 1960 canvas Terme de la nuit, which sold for $289,250 ($235,000) following spirited bidding— more than five times its presale estimate—easily setting a new standard for the 92-year-old Quebec-born artist of Indigenous heritage. Linked with the Automatistes and then the Plasticiens, Letendre was the subject of a major exhibition, Fire and Ice, at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2017.
And three works by the Amsterdam-born Krieghoff were on offer, with Quebec Farm setting a record for the artist when it sold for $571,250 ($464,000).
One notable disappointment was Alexander Colville’s Girl on Piebald Horse, which failed to meet its reserve of $700,000-$900,000 ($570,000-$730,000).