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Lawren Harris's Rockies scene fetches $175K at auction

A Lawren Harris landscape depicting snow-capped peaks of the Rockies was one of the prominent Canadian artworks sold at auction in Toronto on Monday despite a somewhat subdued session that saw several major pieces left on the block.

A Lawren Harris landscape depicting snow-capped peaks of the Rockies was one of the prominent Canadian artworks sold at auction in Toronto on Monday despite a somewhat subdued session that saw several pieces by major artists left on the block.

The Harris canvas titled Mts: Emarald Lake  sold for $175,000 — achieving the high end of its pre-sale estimate at the Sotheby's annual spring sale of important Canadian art, held in association with Ritchies. (All final prices include buyer's premium).

However, the touted Emily Carr oil-on-paper Cathedral, another Harris entitled Abstract Painting #98 and the Jean Lemieux painting La Prairie — featured on the cover of the auction catalogue — failed to attract buyers.

"You're always surprised [when] the things you think are wonderful don't sell and things that you think 'Well, I guess we have to have in the sale' do sell and for significant amounts of money," Sotheby's Canada president David Silcox told CBC News on Monday afternoon, following the session.

"But these things do happen. We'll survive it. By and large, it's one of the hazards of the business," he said, adding that immediately after the auction ended, he began receiving calls from people interested in the Carr and the Lemieux.

After years of thrilling bidding and spectacular sales, the economy seems to have dampened the mood somewhat, Silcox said of the crowd attending Monday's sale.

"There wasn't the ebullience we've seen in the past two or three years, where there seemed to be no limit," he said.

"It was comfortable…but the place wasn't exactly crackling with anticipation and excitement. Everybody was there eager to see something happen. I don't know whether people were hanging around to see a fabulous conclusion to some of the sales efforts we made or maybe they were hoping for a disaster," he quipped.

"We disappointed them on both points. We came through just fine."

Other notable lots sold on Monday include:

  • A small Kathleen Moir Morris panel, which served as the sketch for her canvas Waiting, sold for $94,500 (Sotheby's sold the canvas itself a year ago for $405,000).
  • The Marc-Aurèle Fortin canvas Landscape at Hochelaga, fetched $129,000.
  • Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor Coté's Le Vieux Pionnier — depicting one of the artists' regular subjects, the craggy-faced habitant settler Esdras Cyr —  sold for $140,500.
  • Jean-Paul Lemieux's winter scene Rue à Sillery sold for $152,000.
  • Jack Bush's vibrant, colourful canvas June 24-26 (C135) sold for $100,250.
  • Kazuo Nakamura's oil canvas Reflections sold for $42,000.

In all, buyers purchased 70 per cent of the 142 lots on offer, with a total of $3.5 million worth of art sold.

"I was sort of hoping for 75 per cent," Silcox admitted, but added that in the context of some recent international auctions, he was comfortable with Monday's success rate.

"The Canadian market is still there. It's still strong. It's been affected by the international financial situation but it could have been a lot worse. It wasn't. We had good things at good prices and most of them went."

The Canadian spring art auction season continues with the live Joyner Waddington sale in Toronto on Tuesday, as well as its subsequent online session. West Coast auction house Heffel's spring auction is set for Vancouver on June 17.

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