Canada auction sets new record for a single work of art sold at auction

More than half of the works ever to have been put up for auction in Vancouver were sold at a remarkably high price yesterday. By my calculation, that’s the most ever paid for a…

Canada auction sets new record for a single work of art sold at auction

More than half of the works ever to have been put up for auction in Vancouver were sold at a remarkably high price yesterday.

By my calculation, that’s the most ever paid for a single work, a total of $12.5 million. And more than half of that went to the artist.

According to various counts, Emily Carr herself was the richest of the 30 artists in the sale at the $3,638,406 she received for the painting “Three Seagulls,” an all-round traditional work of the kind that was her thing.

Paul Kane’s “Trapeze With Soft Fortresses” was bought by Fairweather Fine Art for $2,862,666, and a 1955 Hudson ad included by Lord Lovat for a sum reported to be closer to $100,000 brought out $3,000,000, and the piece was purchased for $2,811,667. Lord Lovat’s version was acquired by the British ambassador in 1927 and is the pride of the British Embassy in Ottawa.

Both the two British-made works have achieved astronomical prices.

Story by A.J. Hepplewhite

All works are photographs, purports to be paintings or sculptures, and are subject to quite serious dispute about attribution, value and provenance.

Two more supposedly great works by Emily Carr went to auction later in the day and are expected to bring in millions.

“Two Boats, Three Children” is expected to bring in $4 million, while “Spem in Alium” is predicted to sell for around $2 million.

More than three quarters of the works went to art dealers. The other few went to museums.

The highest price paid to a single bidder for a Canadian work is an estimated $750,000 for the painting “The Grisaille” by Maurice Tremblay, which went to a St. John’s dealer. This is the only one of the 30 works to have ever been offered for sale in Vancouver.

The highest price ever paid for a Canadian work was $6,259,000 for the painting “The Flat Table” by E.Y.C. Fraser, which went to a Toronto dealer and was seized by the Ontario Ministry of the Arts in the 1970s, at the insistence of the buyer, legendary banker Herbert Lehman.

How did the works all sell?

An attempt to explain yesterday’s spectacular auction is an attempt to cover many faces:

• Preference for artifacts over works of art;

• A culture of secrecy and exclusivity that sees photos of as much as a thousand works of art not available for public viewing;

• A succession of bad financial deals by some of the auction houses;

• A desire to take money out of Canada;

• A strong desire to take money out of Canada from the city and province of Vancouver itself;

• A desire to take money out of Canada for the Canadian Art Fund Fund;

• An expectation of huge amounts of money for work by some established artists including J.Y. Haughton;

• A lack of concern about the provenance and authenticity of all of this art in the view of art dealers and auctioneers;

• An expectation of big sales at art-related events;

• A shortage of collectors;

• A lack of demand, or taste, for art the general public likes;

• A strong desire by some knowledgeable dealers and auctioneers to take as much money as possible for no other reason than because they can.

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