Algoma Sketch 48, a rare preparatory oil sketch by Lawren Harris debuted on the auction block at Consignor Canadian Fine Art’s inaugural live auction event tonight in Toronto, fetching $977,500 (significantly above its pre-estimate of $400,000 – $600,000; all prices includes a 15 per cent buyer’s premium, the lowest in the industry). The sale set the record for the highest-selling Algoma sketch by the artist at auction, tripling a previous Harris sketch, Herbert Lake Algoma, which sold for $304,000 in 2013.
Harris painted Algoma Sketch 48 in 1919/1920 during the time when the Group of Seven officially formed as an association of painters. Consignor acquired the exceptional oil sketch from a private seller halfway across the globe in Australia, whose family originally acquired the work from the Toronto-based Mellors-Laing Galleries in 1940.
“The value of this particular Harris piece stems from its rarity as an unknown preparatory work for four of the artist’s well-known large canvases,” said Consignor’s Managing Director Lydia Abbott. “That, combined with an increased interest in Harris’s artwork, made for a truly exceptional centerpiece for our Spring Auction of Important Canadian Art.”
Two other Harris works also fared well at the auction: House, Toronto sold for $115,000 and Shacks sold for $103,500. Additional highlights include:
- Jack Bush, Complete Portfolio of Five Prints – $57,500 (more than triple its pre-sale estimate of $15,000 – $20,000)
- Frank Hans Johnston, A Rocky Corner – $48,300
- A.J. Casson, Jackknife Bay – $34,500
- William Kurelek, Stop Thief! – $34,500 (more than double its pre-sale estimate of $14,000 – $18,000)
“We are thrilled with the performance of our first-ever live auction”, said Rob Cowley, President of Consignor. “The success of the auction not only cements a new tradition for Consignor but also establishes Consignor’s role among Canada’s most notable art auction houses.”
Since its inception in 2013, Consignor’s auctions have included headline-grabbing works such as a rare 100-year-old Tom Thomson portrait (Daydreaming, sold for $172,500) and an undiscovered William Kurelek (Ukrainian Proverb, sold for $41,400). Consignor’s offering of Jack Bush’s Summer Lake broke online auction records in May 2014 for the most expensive painting by a Canadian artist to be sold in an online auction ($310,500), and its June 2014 auction saw eight artists’ records broken.
Painting worth an estimated $400,000-$600,000 discovered on the eve of a major Harris show
by Sara Angel (for Maclean’s)
Last December, Rob Cowley, the president of the Toronto-based auction house Consignor Canadian Fine Art and Appraisers, got an email from an Australian collector inquiring about a piece of art. When he opened the attached photograph, he knew he was looking at something extraordinary. Even though the image was low-res and fuzzy, he instantly recognized it as a version of Island-MacCallum Lake by Lawren Harris, a painting so emblematic of the country’s most important art movement, it was the cover of the National Gallery of Canada’s 1995 book, The Group of Seven: Art for a Nation, written in celebration of the famous painters’ 75th anniversary.
First exhibited in 1921, Island-MacCallum Lake (which now belongs to the Vancouver Art Gallery) is a fall scene of a tree-covered island resting in serene Algoma waters. Long known as one of Harris’s most important works, its subject is one the artist returned to repeatedly; he made at least four known variations of the painting—one of which sold in 2008 for just over a million, reputedly to the actor and comedian Steve Martin.
“Because its tall, thin trees are so distinct,” Cowley says, he knew that he had been sent an image of the painting that Harris had done as a study for Island-MacCallum Lake. He also knew that this work was extremely special because its whereabouts had been unknown. “It had never been in an exhibition, or a book, and that it had never been seen by anyone but its owners’ friends and family for most of the last century.”
From a picture of the back of the painting, Cowley also knew there was no question about its authenticity. It showed a rare label from the Mellors-Laing Galleries, once located at 759 Yonge St. in Toronto. “Because the gallery was in existence for only one year—1940,” says Cowley, “we could date the work’s sale.” The painting’s verso showed the number 48, which corresponded to an inventory of Harris’s art created in 1936.
Talented, well-educated and wealthy (he was heir to the fortune of farm-machinery manufacturer Massey-Harris Co. Ltd) Lawren Harris was the perfect patrician voice to lead the early 20th-century charge for Canadian art. After attending the University of Toronto, he spent four years in Berlin from 1904 to 1908, where he found himself observing a culture whose art schools were being shaken by new approaches toward painting. Impressionism, expressionism, and abstraction were teachings that he brought home and shared with friends, including Tom Thomson and J.E.H. MacDonald. He became the unofficial leader of the Group of Seven, which held its first exhibition in May 1920.
Algoma, the northwestern Ontario region beyond Lake Superior, where Harris found his subject for Island-MacCallum Lake, became a critical geographic inspiration for the group. Harris first visited the territory in May 1918. Mesmerized by its expansive vistas of trees and winding rivers where no clearings could be spotted for miles, he returned to the uncharted territory repeatedly and with fellow Group of Seven members MacDonald, Frank Johnston and A.Y. Jackson. They travelled in a railway boxcar that Harris had refurbished with a sink and a stove so that it could be used for transport and as a living quarter. Few of the lakes in Algoma could be found on a map, so the group named the bright waters they painted after people they admired. Harris titled the scene in Island-MacCallum Lake in homage to Dr. James MacCallum, the renowned patron of Tom Thomson.
What Harris most certainly would never have imagined is how six decades later his study for that work, now known as Algoma (Algoma Sketch 48), would find its way to Australia. In 1940, a Toronto businessman purchased the painting at the Mellors-Laing Galleries. He and his wife placed it on the wall of their family room, where bedtime stories were read to their young daughter. In the 1960s, that daughter moved with her husband to Canberra, but Algoma (Algoma Sketch 48) always remained in her mind. Knowing this, her parents willed her the work, and in the 1980s it became part of her South Pacific home. The painting “always reminded me of comfortable family times and camp days in northern Ontario,” she told Maclean’s, requesting to remain anonymous.
She contacted Cowley not long after Steve Martin thrust Harris into the international art spotlight. Martin, a collector of such 20th-century cultural game- changers as Pablo Picasso, Georges Seurat and Edward Hopper, purchased works by the Canadian painter after he was struck by Harris’s unique ability to render landscape “in a non-European way.” When Ann Philbin, director of Los Angeles’s Hammer Museum, saw paintings by Harris in Martin’s collection she convinced the star to use his celebrity to curate an exhibition for her institution. Wanting to bring Harris to the world’s attention, he agreed, and last October The Idea of North (co-curated with the Art Gallery of Ontario’s Andrew Hunter) opened in L.A. before it travelled to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Next month the show comes to Toronto’s AGO. “Ultimately,” Martin told Maclean’s in advance of the L.A. show, “I think the work is just going to slay everyone.”
Meanwhile, the market has paid unprecedented amounts for his art. Last November, his sales record was broken when the auction house Heffel sold Mountain and Glacier(1930) for $4.6 million, more than triple its presale high estimate of $1.5 million. That hasn’t gone unnoticed by those who own works by Harris. Heffel, as well as Canadian auction house Waddington’s, have Harris paintings in their spring sales. “Arguably there could never be a better time than now to sell works by Harris,” said David Silcox, art historian and former director of Sotheby’s Canada.
Still, because of the Canberra owner’s bond with Algoma (Algoma Sketch 48), she initially had “no interest in selling the work,” says Cowley. “She wanted an appraisal of her painting.” Things only began to change when Cowley explained the historical significance of what was hanging in her living room. By late January, she began to wonder, “How can I hang on to such a critical piece?”
As she is a widow living alone, learning about the value of the work sparked concerns over whether her home had a proper storage and security system. As well, because the painting meant so much to her, she said, “I wanted to make sure that the work ended up in the hands of a collector or institution that appreciated its importance.”
Still, she had a final reservation before letting Algoma (Algoma Sketch 48) out of her home: How would it be sent to Canada? The painting, which was under glass, could not be transported in this format, but removing its frame was a challenge for anyone but an expert. Cowley offered a suggestion: “What if I came to your house to pick up the painting?” That persuaded her to consign the work.
And so, in early February, Cowley left for his first visit to Australia, which, including travel was a 90-hour round trip. “I flew out on a Sunday, arrived on a Tuesday, visited my consignor on the Wednesday and flew back on Thursday.”
When he arrived at his client’s house, Algoma (Algoma Sketch 48) was sitting on her living room sofa. Although the painting had a thin layer of dirt on it—a combination of soot from the woodburning stove in the boxcar where Harris first kept the work plus more than eight decades of dust—Cowley knew the condition of the work was exceptional. “You don’t worry when the painting is dirty,” he explained. “It would be more concerning if it had been improperly cleaned, in which case sometimes damage is done to the art.”
For the next 25 hours Cowley transported Algoma (Algoma Sketch 48) further than any other work by Lawren Harris has ever travelled. The painting, which he carried in a specially insulated, custom-built brief case, was never out of his grasp.
Once back in Toronto, he went straight to the studio of a leading conservator of works by the Group of Seven. Now Algoma (Algoma Sketch 48) is as clean as when Harris finished it in 1920. “Over the last century there was a bit of curvature to the board, which is not uncommon with wood panels,” says Cowley. “Other than that it is pristine.”
On May 31, 2016, Cowley himself will stand at the podium taking bids when Algoma (Algoma Sketch 48) is placed on the block at Consignor Canadian Fine Art’s Spring Auction of Important Canadian Art. For him as well as his client—be it a major gallery or private collector—the scholarship on Harris has taken a step forward. Algoma (Algoma Sketch 48) has now been publicly catalogued, it can be viewed online, it is part of a new dialogue and will likely make it into exhibitions in the near future. “The painting brings me back to the reason why I went into the business,” says Cowley, “It’s a chance to hold history and share it.”
(Toronto – March 31, 2016) – An exceptional Lawren Harris oil sketch that was recently discovered in a private collection half way across the globe in Australia, will debut on the auction block nearly 80 years since it was first acquired from a Toronto gallery in 1940. Algoma (Algoma Sketch 48), an autumn oil sketch painted by Harris in 1919/1920, during the time when the Group of Seven officially formed as an association of painters, is expected to fetch $400,000 to $600,000 at Consignor Canadian Fine Art’s inaugural Live Auction of Important Canadian Art, taking place at the historic Berkeley Church, in downtown Toronto on May 31, 2016.
In addition to its pristine condition, the value and rarity of this particular Harris sketch stems from the fact that it served as the preparatory work for several of the artist’s well-known large canvases including Island, MacCallum Lake (1921) part of the collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery; as well as for three others: Northern Island, Northern Painting XXV, 1924; Northern Painting 25, Northern Island II; and Island, Northern Painting XXI, which are all believed to currently reside in private collections. Harris first visited the Algoma region of Ontario in 1918 and returned on multiple occasions with fellow members of the Group of Seven. Algoma Sketch 48 was acquired by an anonymous buyer in 1940 from the historic Laing Mellors Gallery in Toronto, later travelling with the family when they moved overseas.
“We’re thrilled to offer such an exemplary example of Lawren Harris’ work in our first live auction,” said Rob Cowley, President of Consignor Canadian Fine Art. “It has become increasingly rare to find a Harris preparatory sketch for any of his well-known works, let alone four. We made the trip to Australia to secure the consignment personally from the client and we are delighted to be introducing this important artwork to Canadian collectors.”
Lawren Harris is one of Canada’s most celebrated artists, and his works are currently at the height of popularity with the much-lauded retrospective The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris, co-curated by actor, comedian and art-collector Steve Martin, anticipated to make its Canadian premiere at the Art Gallery of Ontario in July 2016.
Several weeks of live previews will begin during the first week of May at the Consignor Canadian Fine Art Gallery located at 326 Dundas Street W. Consignor’s inaugural live Spring Auction of Important Canadian Art event will take place on Tuesday, May 31, 7:00 pm at the Berkeley Church, located at 315 Queen St. E in Toronto, ON.
“Through careful consideration and feedback from our clientele, we decided that it was time to begin this new chapter for Consignor,” said Lydia Abbott, Managing Director of Consignor Canadian Fine Art. “It is with great enthusiasm that we announce our first live auction of Important Canadian Art this spring with an exciting selection of artwork, including work by many of the most sought-after artists in the art market right now.”
The live auction event begins a new tradition for Consignor, augmenting its current slate of notable online auctions established over the past three years through Consignor.ca. Since its inception in 2013, Consignor’s auctions have included headline-grabbing works such as a rare 100-year-old Tom Thomson portrait (Daydreaming, sold for $172,500) and an undiscovered William Kurelek (Ukrainian Proverb, sold for $41,400). Consignor’s offering of Jack Bush’s Summer Lake broke online auction records in May 2014 for the most expensive painting by a Canadian artist to be sold at an online auction ($310,500), and its June 2014 auction saw eight artists’ records broken.
Consignor is also viewing artwork for consideration for the upcoming Online Auction of Canadian Art, acting as the second session to the live sale, with bidding open at Consignor.ca between June 1 – 8, 2016.
(Toronto – January 29, 2016) As Consignor Canadian Fine Art puts the finishing touches on plans for their spring season of auctions and events, they have announced that the Spring Auction of Important Canadian Art will be a live auction, taking place on May 31st in Toronto.
The sale begins a new tradition for Consignor, with live auctions of Important Canadian Art held twice a year, during the spring and fall, surrounded by the schedule of online auctions which the firm has established over the past three years. In addition to the live auction, this spring will include online auctions of Works on Paper & Prints (February), Canadian & International Artwork (March) and a Second Session of Canadian Art (June), to follow the live sale.
Consignor Specialist and President Rob Cowley provides, “It is with great excitement that we announce our first live auction of Important Canadian Art this spring. Through careful consideration and feedback from our clientele, we decided that it was time to begin this new chapter for Consignor. I am greatly looking forward to taking the podium in May and myself, Lydia, Ryan and our team are delighted to have the opportunity to continue to provide collectors with a unique and competitive series of services which place a strong focus upon the balance of traditional service and innovation.”
The consignment deadline for the live auction will be in mid-March and Consignor is currently viewing artwork for consideration for this inaugural event, as well as the schedule of online auctions approaching in the coming months. Consignor continues to offer their standard all-inclusive selling commissions and the lowest Buyer’s Premium in the industry. To arrange a complimentary and confidential consultation, please contact Consignor’s specialists at 1-866-931-8415 or [email protected].
Further details regarding the live auction will follow as the May sale approaches.
(Toronto – November 26, 2015) Consignor Canadian Fine Art is nearing the end of another successful year with the close of the Fall Auction of Canadian Art on November 25. The auction invited active client participation from across Canada, with a wealth of consignors, bidders, buyers and visitors to our downtown gallery leading to strong bidding competition, notable results and a high sell rate for the November sale.
Emerging and established collectors bid well into the evening from the comfort of their homes using Consignor’s proprietary and specialized online auction software. The evening’s high achievers included fine examples by Frank Johnston (and fellow members of the Group of Seven), Illingworth Kerr and Manly MacDonald, three of the many works which fetched values well beyond their pre-sale estimates. A rare nocturne painting by Johnston captured bidders’ interest, March Midnight selling for $12,650 (all prices include the 15% Buyer’s Premium), more than double its estimate. Illingworth Kerr also rocketed past its expectation, Mountain Moon ultimately achieving $11,500, tripling the estimate. Manly MacDonald’s impressionistic painting of the iconic University of Toronto Hart House also easily passed its estimate, Hart House in Winter inviting strong comptetion between bidders and selling for three times the expectation. Each of these paintings found homes in private collections across Canada, the fall auction generating interest and bidding from clients nationally and internationally.
Artwork by the Group of Seven showed particular strength during the sale with examples by Arthur Lismer, J.E.H. MacDonald, A.J. Casson, and Frank Johnston performing strongly. Other Canadian historical artists highlights included paintings by John William Beatty, Frederick Loveroff, and John McNaughton, with rare examples by the three painters inspiring competition from bidders. Loveroff’s The Portage, a spectacular oil on canvas that hung comfortably among his Group of Seven counterparts, sold for $19,550, one of the highest prices ever achieved for the painter’s work at auction. A luminous canvas by J.W. Beatty, a favourite during Consignor’s extensive previews in November, sold for $32,200, one of the highest auction results for the celebrated artist’s work, a result deserving of Baie St. Paul‘s evidence of Beatty as a true master of light and colour.
Equally sought during the fall auction were modern and contemporary artworks by Jean Paul Riopelle, Gershon Iskowitz, Jean-Paul Jerome, William Kurelek, Ted Godwin, William Winter and Maud Lewis, all of whom continue to enjoy excellent results through Consignor’s online auctions. Riopelle’s Sans titre (PM16) fetched $41,400, the estimate exceeded for the wonderful example of the artist’s signature style executed on a unique oval canvas. Captivating paintings by Iskowitz and Godwin were favourites during the November preview, Violet-A and Hidden Valley (B) selling for $17,250 and $21,850, respectively.
Select highlights from the Fall Auction of Important Canadian Art can be viewed by following this link.
From the entire team at Consignor Canadian Fine Art, we thank you for supporting us in 2015 and we wish you the best holidays with family and friends. Stay tuned to our website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to keep up-to-date on exciting news and events for 2016!
Consignor Offers Selection with the Diversity of Today’s Collectors in Mind
(Toronto – November 9, 2015) – This November, Consignor Canadian Fine Art offers exceptional examples of Canadian art for emerging and seasoned collectors alike. Consignor’s specialists have carefully selected artworks that, together, compose an auction that caters to the interests of a diverse group of collectors. The fall auction includes a range of styles and periods, from landscapes by the Group of Seven, John William Beatty, and Frederick Loveroff, to modern abstracts by Jean Paul Riopelle and Gershon Iskowitz, and a compelling sculpture by acclaimed prairie artist Ivan Eyre. More than 120 artworks will be open for bidding online between November 18 and 25, 2015.
Previews for the November auction are unparalleled in the industry, lasting several weeks leading to the bidding’s close online at www.consignor.ca. Consignor’s innovative model is ideal for emerging collectors who are still familiarizing themselves with an artist’s work and navigating their own interests as they learn. Because of the extensive duration of the auction preview, collectors can return to the gallery space at 326 Dundas Street West several times to view the artwork, speak with a specialist, and get comfortable with the auction process. President and Art Specialist, Rob Cowley, explains, “Our clients enjoy an inviting auction experience which includes the personalized service of our extended preview time and the convenience of online bidding. This season we also have the pleasure of ameliorating the bidding process by pushing the close to 7:00pm, giving our clients the space to conveniently view the auction and bid in comfort.”
Auction highlights include Gershon Iskowitz’s Violet – A, the 1979 canvas estimated to fetch between $20,000 and $30,000. Blues, purples, greens and yellow radiate from this lively abstract painting, capturing the essence of the artist’s most celebrated style. Another Canadian giant on offer is Jean Paul Riopelle, with four artworks available, including a stimulating oval shaped canvas, Sans titre (PM16). Thickly painted in the style for which he is most recognized, Sans titre (PM16) is estimated between $30,000 and $40,000.
For collectors interested in more historical artwork, a rare large oil on canvas by Frederick Loveroff entitled The Portage ($20,000 – $30,000) depicts a landscape typical of his Group of Seven contemporaries, yet distinct in its human presence. Portaging was a physically demanding but essential method of transportation for artists during the first half of the twentieth century who wished to experience the rugged Canadian wilderness. Loveroff’s depiction is a rarely seen perspective in historical paintings from this time.
Three contemplative artworks by celebrated prairie artist William Kurelek round out this season’s offerings. To My Father’s Village ($10,000 – $15,000) commemorates a significant moment in the artist’s life as he travelled to his father’s village in the Ukraine soon before he passed away. Kurelek had a deep and complex relationship with his father and, as a first generation Canadian, Kurelek felt compelled to visually explore his family’s roots and his generation’s immigrant stories in the prairies and in Toronto.