If there was ever any doubt that the Canadian art market was now at an international level it was quickly dispelled following the fall 2005 season which produced prices any market in the world would be proud of. Clearly there has been nothing like it before in Canada. The season’s total is likely to come in at around $25 million ($28 million including buyer’s premium), which is close to the entire year’s total from the 2001-2002 auction year. The market seemingly has an insatiable appetite for quality Canadian works, and, with the continuing strong economy fuelled by buoyant real estate and stock markets, it is almost certain that we will not see any let up in the near term. This means a record tenth consecutive annual market gain for Canadian art by the time the 2005-2006 comes to a close.
More than 50 paintings sold, with buyer’s premium, for more than $100,000 this past season, with ten topping the $400,000 mark and two exceeding $1 million. Equally as impressive was the average buy-in rate among the major salesrooms’ principal sessions (which counts just the first day’s sale at Joyner’s) which was, from a consignor’s point of view, a very positive 13%. In total 640 lots changed hands at these sessions and produced an average price per lot sold of $39,208.
Highlighting the fall 2005 season was the amazing record-setting $12.5 million sale from the Heffel Fine Art Auction House in Toronto. Much has already been written about this historic sale – including our separate article in this newsletter - and much more no doubt has yet to be written but in the end the success of the entire season is about supply and demand and the market’s continuing awareness of the quality and value to be found in the best of Canadian art. Collectors, and I would have to assume some investors too, are finally being forced to pay international prices for works that many have acknowledged for years comfortably belong at the international level.
Works such as Maurice Cullen’s The Bird Shop, St. Lawrence Street that Heffel sold for a record $1,495,000, six times its low estimate, and Lawren Harris’s Algoma Hill which sold at Sotheby’s/Ritchie’s for $1,382,500 are but two of many that could, I am certain, hold there own today in any market in the world.
It wasn’t too many seasons back that a $5 million sale of Canadian art would steal all the headlines and be the envy of the marketplace. Today the best $5 million can do is place a distant third in a market dominated by a record-setting $12.5 million session. The Heffel auction on November 24 in Toronto broke just about every record in the book and then some on its way to setting a new benchmark for this market to aspire to. Critics are wondering if anyone will ever be able to better this total. But they were wondering that at $1 million, $5 million, $8 million and now $12 million. So, historically at least the odds are very much in favour of a $15 million or $20 million sale in the not too distant future, and no one would want to bet against the Heffels being the ones to achieve it.