Growing international interest in Canadian art fuels sales records for Heffel

The E.J. Hughes painting entitled The Post Office at Courtenay, BC, is expected to sell for close to $800,000

Annual spring auction of classic and contemporary Canadian art expected to bring in more than $9 million

Heffel Fine Art Auction House’s 2015 fall auction in Toronto was the highest-grossing art auction ever held in the country, raking in $23.4 million in revenues. That was thanks to a growing international interest in Canadian art, says president David Heffel, and he has high expectations for next week’s annual spring auction in the company’s hometown of Vancouver. “It’s a broad but high-calibre collection of top Canadian artists from coast to coast, and several prominent international contemporary artists as well,” says Heffel, who expects between $9 and $12 million in revenues from the May 25 event. “We look forward to building on the momentum of last year and fueling the success of Canada’s art market through continued international attention.”

He points to the hugely popular travelling exhibition of Group of Seven artist Lawren Harris’s work, co-curated by actor Steve Martin and currently on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, as reflecting and contributing to that international profile. One of Harris’s works, Laurentian Landscape, is expected to sell for close to $1.6 million in Vancouver.

The auction will feature two sessions: fine Canadian art, and postwar and contemporary art—and the entire collection will be open to public viewing from Saturday May 21 to Wednesday May 25 at the Heffel Gallery. An Emily Carr watercolour made as a study for a notable painting owned by the National Gallery of Canada is one of 144 works in the collection. The 1927 painting, entitled Gitwangak, is a scene from a First Nations village along the Skeena River, where the artist visited in 1912. Expected to sell for close to $300,000, it is one of five Carr works in the collection. Another oil-on-canvas painting, entitled Shoreline, is expected to bring in between $600,000 and $800,000.
Heffel admits to favouring E.J. Hughes’s The Post Office at Courtenay, BC, a painting that was completed soon after the artist was honourably discharged from the Canadian Forces, in which he served as an official photographer during World War II. The oil-on-canvas work shows a village street on the edge of a forest, with a logging truck coming into view. Lawren Harris, a friend of the artist, had suggested that Hughes paint a horse and buggy instead of the rig, but Hughes, who preferred contemporary scenes, refused. The 38-by-48-inch painting is expected to draw between $600,000 and $800,000.
The collection also includes work by all members of the Group of Seven, Nova Scotia Alex Colville, Quebec artist Jean Riopelle, and West Coast artists Gordon Smith and Jack Shadbolt. Several prominent international artists are represented as well, including contemporary Indian painter Sayed Haider Raza.

Update: The spring live auction on May 25 exceeded all estimates, achieving sales of $17.2 million. Lawren Harris’s Laurentian Landscape, a work that helped to launch the Group of Seven, sold for $2.18 million. A new record was set for E.J. Hughes, whose 1949 canvas The Post Office at Courtenay, BC captured $1.59 million, almost double the estimated selling price. Alex Colville’s detailed and personal work entitled Swimming Dog and Canoe also proved a highly coveted asset, selling for $1.18 million.

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