Sunny Dhillon, Toronto Sun
May 27, 2010
"Bylot Island I," by Canadian artist Lawren Harris
VANCOUVER - Fears over the European debt crisis did little to dissuade art connoisseurs at a Vancouver auction Wednesday, where works by Group of Seven artist Lawren Harris sparked seven-figure bidding wars.
Harris' "Bylot Island I," an oil-on-canvas Arctic landscape painted in the early 1930s, attracted a high bid of $2.4 million and sold for $2,808,000 after the 17 per cent buyer premium.
"An Arctic Lawren Harris is one of the rarest commodities in the Canadian art world," said David Heffel, president of Heffel auction house which kicked off spring sales of fine Canadian art.
"Most of those reside in public institutions today so for one to turn up in a private collection and come back into the market is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for bidders."
Those who were in the running for Bylot Island I certainly treated it as a rare find. Auction paddles shot up across the room inside the Vancouver convention centre, as those attending the event in person battled with a phone bidder.
When the mystery caller was declared the winner, those in attendance couldn't help but applaud. The work fetched the fourth-highest price ever for a Canadian painting sold at auction.
Bylot Island I wasn't the only Harris artwork to break the million-dollar mark Wednesday. "Arctic Sketch," an oil on board painted in 1930, sold for $1.521 million after the premium.
Harris' "Winter" painting went for $731,250, "Mountain Sketch LXX" sold for $497,250 and "Mount Temple, Mountain Sketch LII" was $468,000.
Harris was born in Brantford, Ont., in 1885 and was a leader in developing the influential group of seven landscape-painters.
Bylot Island I was put on the auction block by an anonymous private collector who said proceeds will be donated to charities throughout Canada. Several of the other Harris works were put up by the estate of Theodosia Dawes Bond Thornton, a Montreal collector who passed away last October.
Heffel auction house had a pre-sale estimate of $12 million to $15 million, before the buyer premium. Those numbers were easily surpassed -- the total hammer price was more than $18 million and the price after premium was $21.8 million.
The auction house said the event yielded the second-highest total in Canadian fine art history and is a firm indication that the market is thriving. Thirteen price records for individual works were set in all.
Harris wasn't the only Group of Seven painter who fared well.
An oil on canvas by Arthur Lismer titled "The Sheep's Nose, Bon Echo" sold for $1,111,500. The 1922 work depicts a cliff in eastern Ontario's Bon Echo Provincial Park. Another Lismer artwork that had a pre-sale estimate of $25,000 sold for $117,000.
Three of Alexander Young Jackson's works went for more than $200,000, and James Edward Hervey's "Rock and Maple 2" sold for $245,700 despite the fact its pre-sale estimate had a maximum of $90,000.
Two works by Tom Thomson, who was friends with the Group of Seven members but died before the organization was founded, were up for sale but neither one was bought. "Landscape with Snow/Northern Mist" had a pre-sale estimate starting at $400,000 and "Early Morning, Georgian Bay" had an estimate that began at $200,000.
Emily Carr, who also wasn't in the group but knew its members well, had a number of items up for grabs.
Her painting "Stumps," which depicts a B.C. forest, sold for $555,750. A painting of Carr and her sister, titled "Emily and Lizzie," went for $468,000, as did her "Young Arbutus."
Fellow B.C. artist Bill Reid's bronze killer whale sculpture sold for $702,000.
Reid created the work, titled "Killer Whale (Chief of the Undersea World)," in 1984. It's one of many items in which he envisions the orca inhabiting both the natural and mythological worlds.
"The buyer of that work today got a real prize, a tremendous treasure," Heffel said.
The first seven items that went up for sale Wednesday were from the estate of famed Canadian architect Arthur Erickson.
The first item, an oil painting by Bertram Charles Binning titled "Sea Side Figures," had a pre-sale estimate of $25,000 but sold for $64,350, setting the stage for frenzied bidding.
Actor Steve Martin and long-time Vancouver Canuck Trevor Linden were among those in attendance.
By Sunny Dhillon, THE CANADIAN PRESS