Lawren Harris mountainscape featured in Steve Martin exhibit set for auction

Fresh off a hit art exhibition spearheaded by Steve Martin, a large-scale masterpiece by Group of Seven founder Lawren Harris is headed for the auction block and expected to fetch more than $3 million.

Commanding canvas expected to fetch upward of $3M

Mountain Forms, a 1926 Rocky Mountain canvas by Group of Seven founder Lawren Harris, is estimated to sell for between $3 million and $5 million at auction tonight. (Heffel Fine Art Auction House)

Fresh off a hit art exhibition spearheaded by Steve Martin, a large-scale mountain scene by Group of Seven founder Lawren Harris is headed for the auction block.

Mountain Forms, a commanding 1926 canvas by the Canadian art legend, will be part of the annual fall sale by Heffel Fine Art Auction House this November.

It is expected to sell for between $3 million and $5 million. If it surpasses the upper end of the estimate, Mountain Forms could supplant Paul Kane's Scene in the Northwest as the most expensive painting ever to sell at a Canadian auction.

Harris's vibrant Rockies scene is about 1.5 metres tall and 1.8 metres wide. It depicts Mount Ishbel, which is in Alberta's Sawback Range in Banff National Park east of Johnston Canyon.

The work holds special significance for auction house heads Robert and David Heffel, who followed their father, Kenneth, into the business. 

"An artwork of this importance comes up once in a lifetime, at most," David Heffel, the company's president, said in a statement.

"The pinnacle of our father's career was selling this painting in 1980, and Robert and I are honoured to offer it once again."

Mountain Forms will be sold at Heffel's fall auction in Toronto on Nov. 23.

Steve Martin co-curated The Idea of North, which celebrated the art of Group of Seven founder Lawren Harris. (Art Gallery of Ontario)

Loaned for Martin exhibit

The painting hails from the collection of Imperial Oil, which has reduced its art holdings in recent years. As part of a streamlining of its corporate collection, the company has donated works to Canadian galleries and given proceeds from some art auctions to the United Way and its partners.

Mountain Forms was most recently on loan to The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris, a headline-grabbing exhibition co-curated by award-winning performer, writer, comedian and art lover Martin. 

Pulling together some of Harris's best known works from top museums, galleries and private collections across Canada, the show debuted at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles before travelling to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.

Harris has been one of the country's most coveted artists on the auction scene, with most of his canvases in museum collections and typically smaller oil sketches coming up for sale.

However, the high-profile Idea of North exhibit helped stoke further interest in Harris. His painting Mountain and Glacier set a record price for his work when it sold for $4.6 million by Heffel in November 2015.