Old World hotshots such as Picasso and Matisse have highlighted recent Heffel Fine Art auctions, but on 1 December it was Canadiana to the core, from Cornelius Krieghoff and Paul Kane to moderns Jean-Paul Riopelle, Jack Bush and Alexander Colville, with a healthy offering of Group of Seven members and associates to round out the evening. Undaunted, bidders responded by generating strong numbers over the two-session online evening sale. Sparked by works of Emily Carr and Kane, it netted over C$21m ($16.4m) with premiums.
The Victoria, British Columbia-born Carr, a leading figure in Canadian modernism who had links to the Group of Seven through her friendship with leader Lawren Harris (also well represented last night), took top dollar, as she had at Heffel’s spring sale with her 1939 forest scene Tossed by the Wind. Last night her 30in by 36in oil on canvas work Cordova Drift (1931) was estimated to sell between C$2-3m. Spirited bidding from several quarters quickly took it to C$2.8m ($2.1m), where it eventually stalled, realising C$3.3m ($2.5m) with the buyer’s premium. Cordova Drift was just one of seven works by Carr on offer last night, including Maude Island Totem, which matched its low estimate to sell for C$700,000 ($548,000) before premium.
Originally pursuing Indigenous themes, Carr began to attract a wider audience when she turned to landscapes, with her treatments of nature bringing to mind artists such as Vincent van Gogh. However, The Crazy Stair, which features a wooden totem figure, remains her all-time auction record. It garnered nearly C$3.4m ($3.2m) at a Heffel’s sale in 2013.
Also well received last night was a Paul Kane oil from around 1855, Assiniboine Hunting Buffalo, which was appraised at C$2.5-3.5m, understandable as it invariably appears in publications touching on the artist and a version of which is in Canada’s National Gallery. Heffel had never handled a Kane in more than 40 years in the business. It neared the high estimate with buyer’s premium, realising C$3.2m ($2.5m).
Six of Harris’s works were up for grabs, covering the whole gamut of his career, from early illustrations of Toronto’s Ward district, Group of Seven-era renderings of Lake Superior, Rocky Mountain paintings and his later, more abstract works. From Sentinel Pass Above Moraine Lake, Rocky Mts., which was consigned by the artist’s family, proved the most desirable of the six and hammered down at C$575,000, or C$691,250 ($541,000) with premium.
Though Tom Thomson was never a Group of Seven member, dying young under mysterious circumstances several years before the group he inspired was founded, he is often associated with the septet. His works are understandably treasured and there was one on offer last night, Spring (1916), which more than doubled its estimate, taking in C$1.35 million or C$1.6m ($1.2m) with premium.
Group member A.J. Casson set the tone for the second session when one of his paintings, Pic Island, Lake Superior (1928), cruised to a new auction record of C$481,250 ($376,000) with premium. That result was more than ten times the low estimate.
A unique item on offer was a hand-painted porcelain dessert set by Dutch-Canadian landscape artist Cornelius Krieghoff, who has long been a staple of Heffel sales and set a new standard last season when his canvas Quebec Farm realised C$570,000 ($446,000). The well preserved set, painted in the 1800s (Krieghoff lived 1815-72), slightly surpassed its high estimate, taking in C$70,000 before premium, or C$85,250 ($66,000) with fees.
Big-ticket items in the early evening portion of the sale were Alexander Colville’s Night Walk, which hammered at C$750,000 or C$901,250 ($705,000) with premium, Jack Bush’s Sway #1, knocked down at C$500,000 ($391,000), and Christopher Pratt’s Salt Shed Interior, setting a new record for the artist at C$300,000 ($234,000). Two relatively small Riopelle works easily surpassed their pre-sale estimates, most notably the 16in by 13in piece Composition, which tripled its initial tag. His Nordique garnered C$280,000 ($219,000), doubling its estimate.
The recently deceased Rita Letendre was hardly forgotten. Her Sans titre realised C$110,000 ($86,000), nearly triple its high estimate of C$40,000.