Lawren Harris painting fetches $1.1M in auction

Works by Group of Seven artists Lawren Harris and A.Y. Jackson, as well as by postwar Canadian artists, sold at auction today for prices sometimes well above what was estimated.

Many Canadian artworks go for prices well above pre-sale estimates

William Kurelek's King of the Mountain, mixed media on board, 1973, was sold at auction Thursday for $380,250, including a buyer's premium. (Heffel)

Works by Group of Seven artists Lawren Harris and A.Y. Jackson, as well as by postwar Canadian artists such as William Kurelek and Jack Bush, sold at auction Thursday for prices sometimes well above what had been expected.

The Heffel sale of Canadian art was expected to raise between $7 million to $10 million, the auction house said ahead of the event, but the final tally topped expectations at $11.5 million.

Hurdy Gurdy, one of the finest urban landscapes ever painted by Lawren Harris, sold for $1,082,250, a price that includes a 17 per cent buyer's premium. The pre-sale estimate suggested it could go for $400,000 to $600,000 including the premium.

Hurdy Gurdy, by Lawren Harris, oil on canvas, 1913 was expected to be one of the top lots. (Heffel)

The Group of Seven founder kept the impressionistic painting of a former Toronto district known as the Ward in his own collection before bequeathing it to his daughter. It has remained in the family ever since.

Occasionally, Harris "would come and say, 'I need to borrow this back for an exhibition,' and sometimes she wouldn't see [the paintings] again," Heffel vice-president Robert Heffel said. "Harris asked to have this painting back for a show…and she said 'No, dad. Not this one.' It was a painting that was very, very dear to her."

Another favourite was William Kurelek's King of the Mountain, a mixed-media work from 1973 of children tumbling on a snowy haymow, while three boys fight for position at the top. The Prairie scene sold for $380,250 with buyer's premium. The estimate for the piece had been $250,000 to $350,000.

Canadian prospector and Eldorado Mining founder Gilbert LaBine, who mined radium and uranium from Port Radium, N.W.T., commissioned the Group of Seven's Jackson to paint Radium Mine. The 1938 painting done on the shores of Great Bear Lake was expected to sell for $200,000 to $300,000. Factoring in the buyer's premium, it sold for more than double the high-end estimate, netting $643,500.

"This auction exceeded our expectations and it is a testament to the strength of the Canadian art market," said David K.J. Heffel, president of the auction house.

Other works on offer (all sale prices and estimates include the buyer's premium):

  • Frivolous September – Up the Gorge (Blue Sky and Forest) by Emily Carr, 1944, sold for $643,500, well above estimate of $200,000-$250,000. The auction house said the seven Carr works available sold for a total of $2.18 million.
  • Study for Lake O'Hara and Cathedral Mountain, by J.E.H. MacDonald, sold for $245,700. The estimate was $200,000-$250,000.
  • Blue Bird, by Jack Bush, sold for $163,800, well above its estimate of $80,000-$100,000.
  • Northern Lake VIII, by Lawren Harris, sold for $183,800, above the estimate of $90,000-$120,000.
  • West Coast 2/06: Dawn, Pacific Ocean, at Brooks Peninsula by Takao Tanabe sold for $76,050, well above the estimated value of $20,000-$30,000)
  • Guardian Spirit of Owl by Jack Shadbolt sold for $163,800, above the estimate of $40.000-$60,000.

Heffel said auction records were set for eight Canadian artists, including Shadbolt,  Tanabe, Carr and Kurelek.