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Select Artwork Prices Double at Canada’s Fall Auctions

Selected artwork prices doubled—and sometimes more—this week at Canada’s fall art auctions.

Among the highlights was Sketch for Tracks and Traffic, a small 1912 oil-on-board sketch by Group of Seven member J.E.H. MacDonald, which went for $200,600 (including buyer’s premium) at the Waddington’s auction on November 22—amounting to some four times the pre-sale estimate of $40,000 to $50,000. A sketch for a larger painting that is owned by the Art Gallery of Ontario, it depicts an early 20th-century industrial scene at the foot of Bathurst Street in Toronto.

Also coming in strong at the Waddington’s auction was a small medium sketch by fellow Group of Seven member Lawren Harris, which sold for $188,000 (including buyer’s premium) against an estimate of $75,000 to $100,000.

Buyer interest also surged for Sybil Andrews’s linocut print Speedway (1934) at Waddington’s. Estimated at $45,000 to $60,000, it sold for $106,200 (including buyer’s premium). Andrews, a Brit who migrated to Campbell River, BC, in 1947, was known for her dynamic imagery of labourers, sport and other phenomena; she originally designed the Speedway image for a London Transport Board poster, though it was never executed as such.

Andrews’ work also attracted attention at the heavy-hitting Heffel auction on November 27. The Heffel event netted just over $12 million in sales altogether, with Andrews’ 1939 oil painting Swirling Tree doubling its pre-sale estimate of $15,000 to $20,000 for a final price of $44,250 (including buyer’s premium).

The top-selling work at the Heffel auction was Lawren Harris’s Houses on Gerrard—another Toronto street scene emerging from the oeuvre of the usually nature-associated Group of Seven. This 1918 oil-on-board painting, just 27 by 33 centimetres in size, went for $1.12 million (including buyer’s premium), which amounted to more than twice the pre-sale estimate of $350,000 to $450,000.

Also just topping a million at the Heffel event was Jean Paul Riopelle’s Ombrages. The 1955 abstract oil painting was first sold at Pierre Matisse Gallery on the corner of 57th Street and Madison Avenue in New York—the first NYC gallery to represent the prominent Quebec abstractionist. It went for just over $1 million including buyer’s premium, with a pre-sale estimate of $550,000 to $750,000. (Interestingly, however, another Riopelle from the same year, Aventure picaresque, failed to sell, even though some other Riopelles at the Heffel auction met or exceeded their estimates.)

Perhaps the most consistent returns for an artist were demonstrated in bidder response to works by William Kurelek.

At least four works by the prolific, multifaceted Kurelek doubled estimates at the Heffel auction, most notably A Real Big One!—a 1970 mixed media on board work that went for $153,400 (including buyers’ premium) after being initially estimated at $40,000 to $60,000.

A previously unknown Kurelek called Ukrainian Proverb—originally given to the owner’s family as thanks for a basket of apple strudel—also met with interest at the Consignor Canadian Art auction, which ran online from November 19 to 28. Estimated at $15,000 to $20,000, it sold for $41,400 including buyer’s premium.

Also performing beyond expectations at Consignor was Soft Greens in May, a 1979 canvas by Saskatchewan painter Dorothy Knowles, which fetched $29,900 (almost double the pre-sale estimate of $12,000 to $15,000). A 1960s work on paper by Norval Morrisseau, Warrior, sold for $27,600 (more than double its pre-sale estimate of $8,000 to $12,000).

Other unexpected returns during fall auctions week included the sale of Ivan Eyre’s acrylic painting Uplands for $318,600—more than four times Heffel’s pre-sale estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. Also notable was Jacques Hurtubise’s Pigritte, an abstract 1973 work that was estimated at $12,000 to $16,000 and instead brought in $44,250—the highest price Heffel has yet achieved for the artist’s work.

This article was corrected on December 3, 2014. The original article indicated that an auction record was set this week for Sybil Andrews’s Speedway. The record was actually set by Bonhams in 2012. We regret the error.

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Cathy Allison says:

I have a picture signed front and back of JEH Macdonald, I think the name is Goats on the Mountain. I am trying to confirm if this is the original.
Is there a record of it in a private collection?

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