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Rare auction of Canadiana fetches $5 million in London

Works from famed British-Canadian connoisseur Peter Winkworth’s (1929-2005) collection were auctioned off in London, Wednesday, bringing in more than $5 million.

Sale saw the National Gallery of Canada pay $324,036 for William Raphael’s 1880 Bonsecours Market

Specialists are seen bidding on pieces from Peter Winkworth's private collection at Christie's Auction House in South Kensington, London on April 1, 2015. The auction, which brought in more than $5 million, included some of the most prized pieces from the colonial/first-contact era. (Ozgur Kizilates/CBC)

Art aficionados have long made pilgrimages to Europe to get their hands on highly valued European pieces. But today it was Canadian art on sale as works from famed British-Canadian connoisseur Peter Winkworth's (1929-2005) collection were auctioned off in London.

Museum buyers, private collectors, and dealers all gathered at Christie's Auction House in London to vie for the last of Winkworth's artifacts, which were once part of the most extensive private collection of Canadiana ever assembled.

Others joined in on the bidding online or through specialists giving them live updates over the phone—and they weren't disappointed. 

Prized pieces

The auction, which brought in more than $5 million, included some of the most prized pieces from the colonial/first-contact era.

Captain Thomas Davie’s 1762 painting Niagara Falls, seen here in a depiction from the Christie's website, sold for $274,158 at Wednesday's auction. The watercolour is one of the first depictions of the falls in North America. (Christies.com)
Among the items bid on were Captain Thomas Davie's 1762 painting of the first ever on-the-spot view of Niagara Falls, and two iconic Quebec landscapes by Canada's first native landscape painter, Joseph Légaré.

The most anticipated item of the day, Cornelius Kreighoff's 1856 Quebec Farm, sold for £194,500 ($288,444) more than double its expected price to an anonymous buyer.

The National Gallery of Canada bought Montreal artist William Raphael's Bonsecours Market (1880) for $324,036.

"[The Gallery] is delighted that this gem, which most probably left Canada many decades ago, will be back home for the enjoyment of the entire nation and all visitors," said gallery CEO Mark Mayer.

That wasn't even the day's top seller. Two early 19th century oil on canvas, described only as Mi'qmak Indian camp on a bay with Mi'qmaks shooting Canada geese; and Mi'qmak Indians hunting Canada geese netted $786,732.

Winkworth: a prolific collector

Born in London to a French-Canadian mother and British Father, Winkworth grew up in Montreal and studied History at the University of Oxford.

A view from the The Winkworth Collection: A Treasure House of Canadiana in London auction that took place Wednesday. (Ozgur Kizilates/CBC)
It was while working as a stockbroker in London that he began amassing Canadian maps, prints, and paintings, with a particular affection for Quebec scenery. He quickly became a familiar figure to the art world—jet-setting from Montreal to New York, London to Paris—to add to his treasures.

This isn't the first time Winkworth's unparalleled private collection has made headlines.

In 2002, he sold approximately $6 million worth of paintings and prints to what is now Library and Archives Canada, the single largest and most important acquisition in the archive's history.After Winkworth's death in 2005, his estate sold another 1,200 pieces to Library Archives Canada and the National Gallery for $4.5 million.

Canadians were given the chance to spot even more of Winkworth's pieces when some of the works being auctioned off today were previewed at Toronto's Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art last month.

Canadiana for Canadians

Perhaps what Winkworth will be remembered for most is the role he played in getting numerous British-held pieces of Canadiana in to Canadian museums and galleries.

One such work was John Verelst's Four Kings of the New World portraits.

Two of the prints of John Verelst's Four Kings of the New World. Etow Oh Koam, King of the River Nation (left) and Tee Yee Ho Ga Row Emperour of the Six Nations (right). The collection of four sold for $130,000 at Wednesday's auction in London. (Ozgur Kizilates/CBC)
The portraits were commissioned by Queen Anne in 1710 when three Mohawk Chiefs of the Iroquois Confederacy and one Mahican of the Algonquin peoples travelled to England to discuss military cooperation in their territorial battles against the French.

The portraits of the chiefs, believed to be the first imagery of tattoos, hung in Kensington Palace until 1977 when Winkworth arranged for their acquisition to the Public Archives Canada.

Today, prints of the Four Kings of the New World sold for $130,000, more than ten times their estimated value.   

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