Wind Clouds, by J.E.H. MacDonald, was exhibited at the first Group of Seven exhibition in May 1920. ((Sotheby's Canada))

Paintings by the Group of Seven and their contemporaries nabbed top prices at the Sotheby's Canada fall auction in Toronto Tuesday night, but enthusiasm for more contemporary works indicates changing tastes, says president David Silcox.

J.E.H. MacDonald's painting Wind Clouds, a rare work exhibited in the first ever Group of Seven exhibition in 1920, sparked bids from seven interested parties. It ultimately sold for $589,000 (including auction house premium).

Works by MacDonald's peers also fared well at the sale, which took place before a standing room only crowd at the Royal Ontario Museum. Highlights included:

  • A Mountain Road through Lynn Valley, BC by Frederick Horsman Varley, which sold for $232,500.
  • Forest Interior by Emily Carr, which fetched $261,250.
  • Algonquin Birches by Lawren Harris, which sold for $111,750.
  • October, Maple Lake by A.J. Casson, which sold for $42,000.
  • The Blue Reader by David Milne, which fetched $163,500.
  • Village en Hivers by Marc-Aurèle Fortin, featured on the cover of the Sotheby's Canada fall catalogue, which fetched $175,000.

Silcox noted that the latter, post-war and contemporary portion of Tuesday's auction — which represented about a third of the 151 lots for sale — sparked excitement among those in attendance.

"I'm particularly excited that the second section of the sale was so animated. The energy in the room really lit up. Tastes are changing and people are getting excited about contemporary art. It's a noticeable trend," he said in a post-auction statement.

Jean-Paul Riopelle was among the stars of that second half, with one of the Quebec abstract artist's small canvases from 1956 earning $278,500.

A canvas by his Automatistes colleague Paul-Émile Borduas, main author of the Refus Global manifesto, was also much sought after and ultimately sold for $221,000.

Other artists whose work sold well in the contemporary section included Jack Bush, Harold Town, Sorel Etrog, Ken Danby and Norval Morrisseau.

The season continues in Toronto on Thursday with the sale by Heffel Fine Art Auction House.