Riopelle abstract painting soars over $1 million at Heffel auction

Quebec painters bring premium prices at Vancouver Convention Centre

MAY 16, 2013

Robert Heffel, vice-president of Heffel Auction House, auctions off a painting by Gordon Appelbe Smith
entitled Red Beach, Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Photograph by: Jenelle Schneider , Vancouver Sun

The bidding on the Jean-Paul Riopelle abstract painting Composition at the Heffel auction Wednesday started off at $500,000. Going up in increments of $25,000, it quickly bounced to $575,000. But then bidding stalled, and it looked like the painting might not make its low-end estimate of $600,000.

"We have some bidders who like to wait 'til the last minute before they put their paddle up," said David Heffel, who runs the auction with his brother Robert. "It makes us nervous, but adds excitement for everybody else."

Sure enough, a couple of phone bidders jumped in, and got into a fierce competition. Before you knew it, the 1955 painting had soared to a final "hammer" price of $1.05 million. With a 17-per-cent commission on top, the painting sold for $1.228 million - the 13th Riopelle painting to sell for more than $1 million at auction.

The Riopelle was the highlight of a strong auction at the Vancouver Convention Centre. With commission, the 185 lots made $11.5 million.

The sale was split into afternoon and evening sessions, with Canadian Post-War and Contemporary Art up first and Fine Canadian Art at night. The contemporary sale brought in $4.7 million, Fine Canadian Art made $6.8 million. (All sale prices include commission.)

Emily Carr's 1931 painting Old Timer still has its original $50 price on the back. But Wednesday, the painting Carr donated to a Red Cross benefit during the Second World War sold for $936,000.

A beautiful Carr watercolour, Cape Mudge Totem Poles (painted in 1909-12) also did well, selling for $380,000. A five-inch-tall totem lamp Carr made under her Klee Wyck pseudonym sold for $14,000.

There were a dozen A.Y. Jackson paintings in the sale, including the cover lot in the Fine Art catalogue, A Quebec Village (painted in 1930). It sold for $585,000 to an investment banker.

It was a good evening for painters from Quebec - another Riopelle sold for $198,900. The 1954 abstract has no title, and was part of several paintings consigned by a former flame of Riopelle, Belle Burke. The eight Burke Riopelles sold for $444,000.

The 31 paintings consigned by the Protestant School Board of Montreal also did well, led by the $585,000 Jackson, another Jackson that sold for $150,000 and a Robert Wakeham Pilot that sold for $128,700.

The other big bids were $672,760 for Marc-Aurele Fortin's Vue de St-Simeon, $409,500 for Paul-Emile Borduas' black and white abstract Sans titre and $234,000 for Lawren Harris' Pic Island, Lake Superior.

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