‘Won­der­ful col­lec­tion’ of Cana­dian art

Montreal Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - MAR­IAN SCOTT

Art-lovers have a rare chance to see 110 works by iconic Cana­dian painters like Jean Paul Riopelle and the Group of Seven this week.

From Thurs­day through Satur­day, the Hef­fel Fine Art Auc­tion House is open­ing its doors to show off the art trea­sures, which will be auc­tioned in Toronto next Wed­nes­day.

“Now’s a re­ally won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity for peo­ple to come and see a won­der­ful col­lec­tion of paint­ings,” said Robert Hef­fel, vice-pres­i­dent of the Van­cou­ver-based auc­tion house, which has branches across Canada.

In Novem­ber, Hef­fel set an auc­tion record for the most ex­pen­sive Cana­dian art­work ever sold when an anony­mous buyer paid $11.2 mil­lion for a large 1926 can­vas by Group of Seven mem­ber Lawren Har­ris.

That price is not ex­pected to be matched at next week’s auc­tion.

How­ever, the works cover a panorama of Cana­dian art, from an 1860 paint­ing of First Na­tions hunters at sun­set by Cor­nelius Krieghoff to 20th cen­tury can­vases by Que­bec mas­ters such as PaulÉmile Bor­d­uas, Jean Paul Lemieux and Guido Moli­nari.

Mon­treal­ers will de­light in cityscapes from long ago, like an ex­quis­ite paint­ing of McTav­ish St. in the 1950s, look­ing to­ward down­town, by lo­cal artist John Lit­tle, and a scene in a ru­ral-look­ing Mon­treal neigh­bour­hood in the 1920s by Kath­leen Moir Mor­ris, a mem­ber of the Beaver Hall Group.

The bright­est star of the auc­tion is a 51-by-76¾-inch can­vas by Que­bec-born Jean Paul Riopelle, ex­pected to fetch be­tween $1 mil­lion and $1.5 mil­lion.

Riopelle, an ab­stract ex­pres­sion­ist, was as­so­ci­ated af­ter the Sec­ond World War with the School of Paris, the group of French and émi­gré artists who made their home in the City of Light.

He cre­ated the vast work, ti­tled Vent du nord, by ap­ply­ing paint with a pal­ette knife and drip tech­nique.

“This paint­ing could hang in any mu­seum in the world,” said Robert Hef­fel, who runs the auc­tion house with his brother, David.

But it’s likely it never will, since these days, most of the works sold at auc­tion go to pri­vate col­lec­tors, he said.

“Our art in­sti­tu­tions are un­der­funded,” David Hef­fel said. “It’s hard for them to com­pete in a mil­lion-dol­lar mar­ket.”

Cor­po­ra­tions are also less in­ter­ested in art than in years past, he said.

“There was a vogue for Cana­dian com­pa­nies to ac­quire art col­lec­tions in the 1970s,” David Hef­fel said. “To­day, there are just a hand­ful of Cana­dian cor­po­ra­tions, par­tic­u­larly Cana­dian fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions, that are ac­tively col­lect­ing.”

For­eign takeovers and the need to boost share­hold­ers’ re­turns have damp­ened the cor­po­rate ap­petite for art, he said.

The auc­tion also in­cludes sev­eral works by Har­ris, whose work Moun­tain Forms broke the Cana­dian sales record. Among them are six oil sketches of rugged moun­tain scenes, ex­pected to fetch be­tween $600,000 and $800,000 each.

Har­ris’s pop­u­lar­ity got a boost from an ex­hi­bi­tion in 2015-16 cocu­rated by co­me­dian Steve Martin in Los An­ge­les, Bos­ton and at Toronto’s Art Gallery of On­tario.

“Lawren Har­ris has re­ally been in the global art spot­light re­cently and de­servedly so,” Robert Hef­fel said.

Why is Har­ris so pop­u­lar with col­lec­tors?

“He’s try­ing to at­tain a spir­i­tual plane in his paint­ings and I think peo­ple re­ally re­late to that,” Hef­fel said.

Other high­lights in­clude a 1921 can­vas of a win­ter road in Que­bec by Group of Seven mem­ber A. Y. Jack­son, val­ued at $300,000 to $500,000, along with paint­ings by group mem­bers Arthur Lis­mer, Fred­er­ick Var­ley and Franklin Carmichael.

The Group of Seven forged a uniquely Cana­dian artis­tic iden­tity in the 1920s by paint­ing the un­tamed north­ern wilder­ness. While Har­ris was in­de­pen­dently wealthy, the oth­ers, in­clud­ing Lis­mer, who later was as­so­ci­ated with an art school at the Mon­treal Mu­seum of Fine Arts, started out as il­lus­tra­tors.

The auc­tion also in­cludes a few non-Cana­dian works, in­clud­ing a por­trait of bal­le­rina Karen Kain by Andy Warhol.

Hef­fel, which moved its spring auc­tion from Van­cou­ver to Toronto for the first time this year, has gen­er­ated na­tional head­lines for record-break­ing prices for Cana­dian mas­ter­pieces. The broth­ers built their late fa­ther’s pri­vate art gallery into a dom­i­nant player in the art auc­tion busi­ness by be­ing early in ex­ploit­ing the In­ter­net’s po­ten­tial to boost sales, the Hef­fels said. This year, the firm’s on­line sales jumped by 28 per cent, David Hef­fel said.

“We see Cana­dian art as grow­ing and grow­ing on an in­ter­na­tional scale,” Robert Hef­fel said.

But not all jaw-drop­ping sales get head­lines. Last month, Mon­treal art dealer Alan Klinkhoff sold a Lawren Har­ris paint­ing through his Toronto gallery for $9.5 mil­lion. It was part of a sale of 14 paint­ings by the artist to var­i­ous buy­ers that fetched more than $30 mil­lion.

“Our busi­ness is pri­vate,” Klinkhoff said. “I don’t broad­cast.”

Cana­dian art is “do­ing ex­tremely, ex­tremely well,” he said. How­ever, less known works are still af­ford­able, he added.

“It seems a bit of a two-tier mar­ket. The most pop­u­lar are go­ing for ex­tra­or­di­nary prices,” he said.


David Hef­fel, left, and Robert Hef­fel will be auc­tion­ing off Jean Paul Riopelle’s Vent du nord next Wed­nes­day in Toronto. “This paint­ing could hang in any mu­seum in the world,” Robert Hef­fel says.

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