Toronto (20/15 BP) – Sotheby’s/Ritchies turned in their most successful sale ever in Canada when they sold $10.5 million worth of Canadian art on the morning of November 19. A bigger sale than usual – are the salesrooms reversing a trend for smaller sales set a few years ago? – with 277 lots and a pre-sale estimate of $5/8 million, the session saw several works top the $100,000 mark and just 19.5% bought in. Biggest seller on the day, and setting a new record for the artist, was Marc-Aurele Fortin’s Les Grands Arbres. The 50” x 40” canvas (illustrated right) was estimated at $150/250,000 but soared to a very impressive $807,500.
Definitely one of the hottest sectors of the market this past year has been the work of Tom Thomson. Sketches by the artist have doubled the price of large canvases set just a couple of years back, and million dollar price tags have become almost common place for this important painter. Although not attracting a million dollar bid, Algonquin Park, a classic 8.5” x 10.5” oil on board nevertheless did well with a high-estimate bid of $635,000. Green Wood, Algonquin Park, a 10.5” x 7.75” panel estimated at $200/250,000 and painted c. 1913-1917 sold within estimate with a bid of $232,500.
A painting always destined to do better than estimate was A.Y. Jackson’s Ontario Mining Town, Cobalt. The 21” x 28” canvas had most of the ingredients necessary for a strong price – snow, horse and sled, buildings, rolling winter landscape (but no bright reds!) – including an attractive pre-sale estimate of $125/175,000. And it didn’t disappoint, finding a buyer at $520,000.
The sale got off to an excellent start first with a summer landscape from Maurice Cullen, Summer St. Eustache, taking a bid of $71,500 against a $25/35,000 estimate, and then dramatically with two small panels by John Young Johnstone. On the Rue Didot, Paris, 5.75” x 7.25” from 1913 was estimated at $5/7000, as was Bonsecours Market, Montreal, 5.25” x 6.75” from 1915. They sold for an exceptional $45,000 each. Another Johnstone of Mid-Night Mass near Pont Aven, France sold for $77,250 against an $8/12,000 estimate.
The momentum kept building until the first of eight works by David Milne went on the block. Grey Village, a 20” x 28” canvas c.1930-1933, and estimated at $175/275,000 fetched an impressive $462,500, a record for the artist that lasted just 4 days! Also doing well was the artist’s Edge of the Garden, 20” x 18” from 1913. Estimated at $50/70,000 it found a buyer at $198,000.
Another of the market’s hot spots can be found in the work of Kathleen Moir Morris. St. Roch’s Market, Quebec, 24” x 30”, sold for $209,500 against a $150/200,000 estimate, while McGill Cab Stand, Montreal, a 10” x 14” panel c. 1930-31, showed just how hot when it sold for $129,000 against a $40/60,000 estimate.
The work of the Beaver Hall painters continues to appeal to collectors as was evident with strong prices for works by H. Mabel May, Prudence Heward and Sarah Margaret Robertson, with the latter’s In the Garden of the Mother House, 10” x 12” fetching $51,000 against a $12/18,000 estimate. But none surpassed the exceptional price realized for an equally exceptional painting by Marion Scott. Lorne Crescent, a captivating 20” x 20” panel showing people clearing snow off the sidewalk at night, sold for a record $198,000, comfortably above its $25/35,000 estimate. Almost as strong was Ethel Seath’s Winter Walk, 18.5” x 23” that sold for $175,000 against a $40/60,000 estimate.
Similarly, the work of the Painters Eleven also continued to impress. Jock MacDonald’s Modality Series, Spring Awakening 854A, a 30” x 24” canvas from 1937 did well with a bid of $88,750 against a $20/30,000 estimate. Jack Bush’s Side Cut, 67” x 42” from 1967 fetched $94,500 against a $60/80,000 estimate, while Green over Blue, 81” x 53” from 1965 fetched $163,500 against a $50/70,000 estimate. Harold Town’s Façade and Celebration, 78.5” x 78.75” sold for an above estimate $65,750.
Algoma Waterfall was the title of a J.E.H. MacDonald sketch from 1919 that appealed to the market to the tune of $485,500, well above its $100/150,000 estimate. Faring almost as well was the artist’s Solemn Land, 8.5” x 10.5” which fetched $462,500, four times estimate. Albert Robinson’s work performed strongly with Cacouna, Lower St. Lawrence, 8” x 10” doing particularly well when it sold for $100,250, four times estimate. Also doing well, and showing the growing strength of the quality ‘minor’ artists in the market was Harold McCrae’s The Auction, a 34” x 40” canvas from 1932 estimated at $55/7500. It found a buyer at $42,000.
Other prices of note include a bid of $163,500 for Brian Jungen’s Prototype for New Understanding, a mixed media sculpture in the form of a west coast First Nations mask assembled from deconstructed Nike Air Jordan sneakers. It was estimated at $25/35,000. Jean-Paul Lemieux’ Le Baigneur, 16” x 20” fetched $106,000, well above its $60/80,000 estimate.