Missed big-ticket items cost Canadian market $9.5 million in fall season

Thomson biggest individual loser, Riopelle, Harris close behind


Alex Colville's "French Cross" shared the limelight with two works by Tom Thomson as the most expensive paintings that did not sell this past fall season. The Colville was estimated at $600/800,000.

Another big-ticket work that failed to find a buyer was Frederick Varley's "Green & Gold Portrait of Vera." It was passed up with a $500/700,000 estimate.

The usually very bankable work of Lawren Harris took a serious hit this fall with six works failing to find new homes. Top among them was the artist's "Mountain, Tonquin Valley" which carried a $250/350,000 estimate.

Another sure-fire certainty has been the work of Emily Carr, especially impressive pieces like "Skidigate (sic)", but not so this fall. This strong image went unsold with a $500/700,000 estimate.

Despite what is being viewed as a successful fall season for Canadian art in light of the current dour economic climate, one has to wonder what might have been had the fall sales actually been offered either this past spring, or even last fall. Several important works were offered by the leading salesrooms across the country, and many failed to find buyers, something that almost certainly wouldnít have happened for most of them six months or a year earlier.


So what impact did the missed high-ticket sales have on the seasonís overall bottom line? Quite a lot as the following list shows. In total there were 52 important works that failed to find buyers this season. We consider important any work with a low estimate of $50,000 and above. The sum total of all these missed works comes to a sizeable $9,480,000 based on their low estimates only. Thatís an average of $182,307.69 per painting passed over. It is more than conceivable that had these pieces been offered earlier most would have sold, and likely sold within or above estimate. If we factor in, therefore, past market performance, it is apparent that these same 52 works could well have sold for as much as $12/15 million in a good economy. Add this to the $25 million the market did produce and there is little doubt that a 13th straight annual total sales gain would have been very much on the cards.


From the salerooms' perspective the lost sales have a far more significant impact - on their bottom lines. If we were to take a very conservative $10 million in missed sales and factor in the lost consignment commission and buyer's premium, we would be looking at between $2.5/3 million in lost revenue to the three major auction houses before any special concessions were made to consignors. And if we look to the high end of our projection for the season in a good economy, the loss to the salerooms could be as much as $4 million. That hurts! 


Which artist was the biggest individual loser on the season? Surprisingly enough that ignoble distinction was reserved for the marketís hottest property over recent seasons, Tom Thomson. No less than six works by Thomson failed to sell for a combined missed sales opportunity of $2.5 million. The next big loser in value was Jean-Paul Riopelle whose three misses totaled $1.12 million. Not far behind with six missed lots and a combined total of $955,000 comes the work of Lawren Harris, while there were three works of Emily Carrís passed over for a total of $950,000. Frederick Varley had three works passed for a total of $825,000, and David Milne had five works bought in totaling $515,000.


The biggest individual disappointment was shared by two artists, Tom Thomson and Alex Colville. Each had pieces estimated at $600,000 (Thomson had two) that failed to find a buyer. Varley and Carr each had $500,000 misses, Thomson also had a $450,000 miss, and Thomson again with Riopelle had buy-ins at $400,000.


Given the market indifference to works that are re-run too soon after failing to sell on their first outing, we can expect that the majority of these 52 works will not grace the auction block for many years to come. With the disappointment of these important pieces, and the growing concern over just how deep the economic downturn is going to go, there is little doubt that Canadian salesrooms will need every bit of sales savvy at their disposal in the coming months to cajole works from consignors in order to present a strong showing in the spring of 2009.


High-ticket Canadian paintings that failed to find a buyer in the 2008 fall auction season:


Heffel Fine Art:


Krieghoff: Camp Scene at Night - $50/70,000

Cullen: The Iceberg - $60/80,000

Robinson: St. Urbain, PQ - $70/90,000

Carmichael: Winter Matawa - $70/90,000

Mousseau: La Marseillaise - $70/90,000

Verner: Indian Encampment - $80/120,000

Jackson: Great Bear Lake near Radium - $80/120,000

Talirunili: Migration Boat - $100/150,000

Milne: Stump among the Saplings - $100/150,000

Milne: Dark Hills - $125/175,000

Harris: Mountains, Jasper III - $125/175,000

Varley: Porch of Rangerís Cabin - $150/200,000

Harris: At Batchewana, Algoma II - $150/200,000

Milne: Dark Pool, Temagami - $150/250,000

Varley: Fire Rangerís Look-Out - $175/225,000

Harris: Mountain Sketch CVI - $200/250,000

Harris: Mountain, Tonquin Valley - $250/350,000

Thomson: Forbes Hill, Huntsville - $350/450,000

Riopelle: Sans titre - $350/450,000

Thomson: Early Morning, Georgian Bay - $400/600,000

Thomson: Spring, Algonquin Park - $600/800,000

Colville: French Cross - $600/800,000


Works: 22. Value at low estimate: $4,305,000




Jackson: Autumn, Lake Superior - $50/70,000

Milne: King, Queen & Joker I - $60/90,000

Krieghoff: A Gentlemanís Cutter - $60/80,000

Krieghoff: Indian Encampment - $60/80,000

Cullen: Towards Evening, North River - $70/90,000

Pilot: Old Quebec with Parliament Buildings - $70/90,000

Eyre: Philosopher - $70/90,000

Bush: England #1 - $70/90,000

Lemieux: La Statue - $75/100,000

Milne: Two Pines - $80/120,000

Harris: Painting - $80/120,000

Jackson: April Morning, After Rain - $90/120,000

Riopelle: LíIle Joyeuse - $120/180,000

Moir Morris: Going to Church - $125/175,000

Carr: Study of a Totem Figure - $150/250,000

Harris: Algoma Sketches XLVI - $150/250,000

Carmichael: September Afternoon - $200/300,000

Riopelle: LíOrage - $250/350,000

Riopelle: Sans titre - $400/600,000

Thomson: Algonquin Park Vista - $450/650,000

Varley: Green & Gold - $500/700,000

Carr: Skidigate - $500/700,000


Works: 22. Value at low estimate: $3,675,000


Joyner Fine Art:


Muntz: Night & the Child - $50/60,000

Fortin: Charlevoix, Winter - $50/60,000

Thomson: Near Owen Sound - $100/150,000

Gagnon: The Shy Model - $100/150,000

Jackson: Echo Bay, Great Bear Lake - $150/200,000

Lemieux: LíHeure du Train - $150/200,000

Carr: Yan, Q.C.I. - $300/350,000

Thomson: Fall Woods, Algonquin - $600/800,000 (illustrated upper right)


Works: 8. Value at low estimate: $1,500,000


Total works estimated at $50,000 and above that were bought-in: 52


Total low estimate value: $9,480,000


Average price per painting bought-in: $182,307.69



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