A landscape by Group of Seven painter Lawren Harris was the big highlight at Sotheby’s auction of Canadian art in Toronto Tuesday night as it sold for far more than experts thought it would bring.

Arctic Sketch XXII was in the catalogue with an estimated price of $400,000 to $600,000. But when the hammer finally came down, it had sold for $865,000.

Arctic Sketch XXII is one of about three dozen oil sketches Harris completed during his watershed trip to the Arctic with A.Y. Jackson in 1930.

"It was a turning point in his life…The farther north he got, the closer he thought he was getting to the Canadian soul," says Sotheby’s Canada president David Silcox.

The big hammer price for the Harris work wasn't entirely unexpected. Prices for some Canadian artworks soared at Joyner Waddington’s on Monday and Heffel last Friday, as art lovers watched for hot bidding on a range of Group of Seven and post-war artists who seem to be in demand. 

On Friday, the Harris urban landscape Hurdy Gurdy sold for close to $1.1 million.

However, it wasn't all big sales. A lack of competitive bidding meant headlining works by two renowned Canadian artists failed to find buyers on Tuesday.

A painting by influential Ontario artist Tom Thomson, which depicted winter in Algonquin park, was estimated at $750,000 to $1 million, but couldn't secure a buyer.

And a highly touted work by Group of Seven painter Lawren Harris (Street in Barrie, Ont.), which was estimated to sell for between $900,000 and $1.2 million, also went unclaimed by the end of the night.

Sotheby's Canada's Managing Director, Linda Rodeck, said the failure of the two top lots to find buyers was more of a disappointment than a surprise.

fortin-250

View of Montreal from St. Helen's Island, by Marc Aurèle Fortin, had a pre-auction estimate of $400,000-$600,000. It sold for $462,500. (Sotheby's)

"There's not much room at the top of the bidding pyramid and while the presence of just two capable bidders can result in record prices, the absence of two bidders can lead to a different outcome," she said.

"I view the lack of bidding tonight for these lots as an opportunity lost. Both Thomson and Harris are scarce commodities and both of our star lots were beautiful examples of what each artist is renowned for."

Rodeck said Sotheby's expects to receive offers for the unsold works in the near future.

Two major paintings by impressionist Clarence Gagnon up for auction — a seascape titled St. Malo from the Cliffs of St. Briac, and a lilac-hued canvas by Gagnon called Winter Solitude, painted in Charlevoix country near Baie-St. Paul in Quebec — both failed to sell. Both were estimated at $400,000 to $600,000.

Tuesday’s auction also featured works by William Kurelek, Cornelius Krieghoff, David Milne and Maurice Cullen, as well as artists such as Jean-Paul Lemieux and 1980s art collective General Idea.

Kurelek's 1962 work, Wintertime North of Winnipeg, went for more than triple its estimate, selling for $255,500. Another Kurelek, The Sacrament of Penance, went for $221,000, also far above its pre-auction estimate of $60,000 to $80,000.

David Milne's Red Pool, Temagami, marks a summer the artist spent in Temagami in 1929 before heading farther north to Cobalt. It was estimated to go for $125,000 to $175,000 and sold for $146,250.

Also auctioned Tuesday at Sotheby’s:  

  • Winter Break-Up, by Maurice Cullen, sold for $106,000 (estimated at $90,000-$120,000).
  • Mountains on Haines Highway, Yukon, by A.Y. Jackson, sold for $146,250 (estimated at $150,000-$200,000).
  • View of Montreal from St. Helen’s Island, by Marc Aurèle Fortin, sold for $462,500 (estimated at $400,000-$600,000).
  • Woman Knitting – Repose #3, by Emily Carr, sold for $117,500 (estimated at $125,000-$175,000).
  • Atomic Blast, by General Idea, sold for $30,000 (estimated at $20,000-$30,000).
harris-arctic-sketch

Arctic Sketch XXII is one of about three dozen oil sketches Lawren Harris completed during his trip to the Arctic in 1930. (Sotheby's )

With files from The Canadian Press