Seven's art cost woman peanuts

Paintings from her estate will fetch millions

The Victoria Times Colonist
May 25, 2010

Theodosia Dawes Bond Thornton had good taste.

Long before the Group of Seven came into vogue, the Montrealer assembled a collection of their work, for a relative pittance.

She bought Lawren Harris paintings for as little as $85, A.Y. Jacksons for the same amount and at least one Arthur Lismer painting for the princely sum of $37.50.

They've risen in value.

The $85 painting she bought from Harris in 1947, Lake Superior Sketch XXXIII, is expected to bring $200,000 to $300,000 at the Heffel Auction of Fine Canadian Art tomorrow at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Her $85 Jackson, Coal Miners' Houses, Canmore, Alberta, was purchased four months after the Harris, and has a pre-auction estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. The $37.50 Lismer, Forest Interior, bought in 1949, has an estimate of $20,000 to $25,000.

"She amassed a great collection with a total [cost] of $17,000 to $18,000," marvels David Heffel, who runs the auction house with his brother Robert. "It's in the millions now. It was a great investment."

That's an understatement. Three of the 37 works from the Thornton collection up for auction - Harris' Winter ($600 in 1962) and Arctic Sketch IX ($500 in 1959), and Albert Henry Robinson's St-Urbain ($165 in 1945) - have pre-auction estimates of $300,000 to $500,000.

Thornton died last Oct. 27, aged 93, and her collection has been put up for auction by her estate.

Heffel had met her and said her house had so many works of art, the living and dining rooms were set up like an art gallery, "with a gallery-type peg-board and broad lighting system in the dining room where she would rotate the works." She literally had a cupboard full of Harris paintings between the living and dining rooms, awaiting their turn in the rotation.

The works are on display through tomorrow at the Heffel Gallery.

The Heffel brothers, who have become a dominant force in the Canadian art auction market, expect the sale to be "one of the biggest we've brought to market, with total estimates of $12 to $15 million," said David Heffel.

The highest estimate is $1.5 million to $2.5 million for another Harris painting, Bylot Island I, painted in 1930, when Harris and A.Y. Jackson travelled to the Arctic.

At the last Heffel auction in November, the Harris painting The Old Stump, Lake Superior, sold for $3.51 million, the second-highest price achieved for a Canadian artist at auction in Canada.

The unknown buyer may be interested in a Lismer cartoon that shows Harris with an axe chopping down a tree to create the stump so he could paint it. It comes with the caption, "Well, that's that," and the stump is adorned with a "1st" tag, a reference to Harris winning 1st prize at an art competition in Baltimore in 1931.

By John Mackie, Canwest News Service

Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist

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