It was a tale of two Lawren Harris canvases at Waddington's spring auction Monday evening, with one highly touted work fetching a price just shy of its low estimate and an higher-than-expected sale for another, lesser known canvas.
Group of Seven founder Harris’s Lake Superior Painting X, billed the highlight of the Toronto auction house's offerings this season, sold for just over $2.47 million.
The painting was purchased by a couple from western Canada who placed their bids by phone. It was Waddington's largest sale of the evening.
Entering the Canadian art market for the first time, Lake Superior Painting X was estimated to fetch between $2.5 and $3.5 million, with hopes of setting a new artist record.
"Our view of success is achieving a sale, not reaching a record necessarily," Linda Rodeck, vice-president of fine art and senior specialist of Canadian art at Waddington's, said on Tuesday.
"At the end of the day it comes down to who is willing to spend money on buying it."
Though Lake Superior Painting X did not quite reach its estimate, another Harris canvas — Street Scene — surprised buyers and art specialists alike with its high selling price. Predicted to sell for $400,000 to $600,000, Street Scene garnered a price of more than $1 million.
"Everyone agreed it was exceptional," Rodeck told CBC News.
Though somewhat atypical of Harris’s most popular work in that it depicts an urban setting — Toronto in the 1920s — Street Scene showcases the artist’s signature style by incorporating features from his iconic landscape paintings.
"One of Harris's great achievements was matching a theme to a style, whether in town or in the isolation of Lake Superior," according to art critic Paul Duval.
Waddington’s sold 164 Canadian artworks Monday night and set eight records, including for Guido Molinari’s Mutation Serielle with Black Band (which sold for $200,600) and Oscar Cahen’s Object (which sold for $118,000, far beyond its $41,000 estimate).
Altogether, Waddington’s achieved just over $5.98 million in sales (including its auction house premium of 18 per cent) in just under three hours, with the total falling close to its estimate of approximately $5.2 million.
The group of committed collectors who attended Monday night are devoted to building and sharing their collections of Canadian art, Rodeck says.
"[Clients] know that they have something great that they can enjoy for many years to come. It is kind of an accomplishment."