Melissa Leong, National Post
May 2, 2012
Morning, Great Bear Lake
David Heffel stood at a podium in a Toronto hotel ballroom in November, calling out numbers that would make art history.
Jean Paul Lemieux's famous painting, Nineteen Ten Remembered, was up for bids through the Vancouver-based auction house that Heffel runs with his brother, Robert. They were hopeful that the canvas would break the worldwide record for contemporary Canadian art sold at auction; a Jean-Paul Riopelle painting sold at $1.889-million in 2008.
Nineteen Ten Remembered sold for $2 million, $2.34 million with the buyer's premium. "When you're rounding numbers off and standing up at the podium, my concentration is more on the sequence of the increments as opposed to what those numbers actually mean," Heffel said. "Once you hammer it down. it kind of sinks in then."
In its upcoming Spring auction which features 185 lots, expected to achieve between $9 million and $12 million, Heffel is offering several Lemieux paintings; while the Lemieux works are not expected to break any records, some do share similar elements to Nineteen Ten Remembered.
La plage américaine, a large oil painting signed and dated 1973, is estimated to sell at $500,000 to $700,000. It features three figures on a beach, including a sitting woman, her eyes shaded by the brim of her white hat, seemingly in reverie and gazing out at the viewer.
"It has visual correspondence between three figures. It adds mystery and unknown dialogue to the work," Heffel said. "It was also alongside Nineteen Ten Remembered, in that very important exhibition by Jean Paul Lemieux which travelled the eastern part of the Iron curtain in 1974. That was a real milestone for Canadian art."
Jean Paul Lemieux
La plage américaine
We may see a milestone at the May 17 auction in Vancouver for Edwin Headley Holgate, the eighth member of the Group of Seven. Holgate's Great Bug Pond, Cache River, has a high estimate of $800,000; Heffel believes the 1939 wilderness scene could smash the Montreal artist's auction record of $575,000 and catapult Holgate into the exclusive million dollar club for Canadian art.
"Holgate hasn't yet joined that million dollar club and I don't know if he's ready to but if it's his time, the Great Bug Pond is my all-time favourite Holgate work."
The country's list of milliondollar paintings now numbers 56. According to a Heffel database that tracks all Canadian art sales at auction, 12 painters have produced milliondollar artworks: Paul Kane, Lawren Harris, Tom Thomson, Jean Paul Lemieux, Emily Carr, Jean-Paul Riopelle, James Wilson Morrice, Maurice Cullen, David Milne, Alex Colville, E.J. Hughes and Arthur Lismer.
Heffel's auction features seminal works by Carr, Harris and all the original members of the Group of Seven. Harris's Lake Superior, an oil painting of rock, water and sky, was consigned to Heffel from a private collection in England. It has a high estimate of $600,000. "Paintings in the '70s worth $10,000 now could be in the hundreds of thousand. That sometimes create stress to have that much value hanging on the wall," Heffel said.
"My dad had a corny phrase: Sometimes collectors can't stand the heat on the wall."
Heffel Fine Art Auction House will hold its Canadian Post-War & Contemporary Art and Fine Canadian Art auctions on May 17 in Vancouver.
National Post, With files from Postmedia News