The Complete Canadian Art Market Series –

EDWARD JOHN E.J. HUGHES 300x249 The Complete Canadian Art Market Series   artmarketblog.comI have received several requests to post the entire series of posts on the Canadian art market.  So here it is.  Feel free to post any news, questions or comments regarding the Canadian art market and the market for Canadian art.

Re-evaluating the Canadian Art Market Pt. 1 –

One of the best parts of my job is identifying trends within the art and antique market.  A particularly exciting trend that has recently captured my attention is the increased interest being shown in the work of some of Canada’s most famous artists – particularly those of, and those associated with, the Group of Seven.  The Group of Seven came together at the beginning of the 20th century thanks to a shared desire for a more distinctly Canadian landscape painting tradition to rival that of Europe.  According to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection website:

“In the early decades of the twentieth century, circumstances brought together several artists who were committed to exploring, through art, the unique character of the Canadian landscape. Collectively they agreed: Canada’s rugged wilderness regions needed to be recorded in a distinctive painting style. This style would break from European tradition and reflect an increasingly nationalistic sentiment. ”

The Group of Seven originally consisted of Lawren Harris, J.E.H. MacDonald, Arthur Lismer, Frederick Varley, Frank Johnston, Franklin Carmichael and A.Y. Jackson but grew to include A.J. Casson, Edwin Holgate an L.L. FitzGerald.  The Group’s contemporaries included David Milne, Thoreau MacDonald, J.W. Morrice, Clarence Gagnon, Albert H. Robinson, Maurice Cullen and Emily Carr. With such a strong French influence that resulted in an extraordinary artistic heritage, it is surprising that the work of great Canadian artists such as those associated with the Group of Seven is not more highly valued.  There are, however, several factors that I believe have contributed to the undervaluation of the work of many Canadian artists, which I will explore in a future post.

There are two major events about to take place that support my theory of a revaluation of Canada’s most significant historic artists.  The first is an exhibition titled Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven which includes 122 paintings and numerous sketches by Tom Thompson and other members of Canada’s famous Group of Seven that has been organised by the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London.  What makes this exhibition so significant is that fact that it is the largest international exhibition of works by the Group of Seven to date and will be a touring exhibition. The first stop of the tour will be London’s Dulwich Picture Gallery, which will host the exhibition from the from Oct. 16 to Jan. 8, followed by the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design in Oslo from Jan. 29 to May 13, and then the Groninger Museum in the Netherlands from June 3 to Oct. 28, 2012.

The second major event is the launch of Bonhams’ first sale of Fine Canadian Art in New York to be held on the 29th of November. All paintings in the sale will be sent to Bonhams New York for preview and auction. The auction will be simulcast in New York and Toronto, with bidders attending the preview and auction in either location.  So far the highlight of the auction is a work by Marc-Aurèle Fortin titled Barque à Percé (Estimate: CAD$150,000/200,000), an artist who shared the Group of Seven’s pursuit of a distinctly Canadian landscape painting aesthetic. A major exhibition of Marc-Aurèle Fortinn’s work titled Marc-Aurèle Fortinn: The Experience of Colour, the first major museum exhibition devoted to the artist in more than 45 years, was held at the Musée national des Beaux-Arts du Québec from February 10 through May 8 2011 and then at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection from May 28 to September 11, 2011.

 Re-evaluating the Canadian Art Market Pt. 2 –

heffel The Complete Canadian Art Market Series   artmarketblog.comThe Canadian art market and the market for Canadian art exist within a particularly interesting framework that has limited the extent to which the market for Canadian art can explore its potential.  Although many of Canada’s most famous and highly desirable artists sought to establish a distinctly Canadian aesthetic and a uniquely Canadian artistic heritage, the strong connection with Europe that influenced many of these artists led to the adoption of styles and techniques that are universally admired and highly marketable.   For this reason, combined with what would seem to be a prime geographical location, it would therefore make sense that the market for Canadian art would be a dominant force on the world stage and that Canadian art would be a strong feature of important international art auction catalogues.  Except, for a number of reasons, the market for Canadian art has failed develop the sort of strong international market that it deserves.

A clue alluding to one of the reasons for the current status of the market for Canadian art comes in the form of a statistic provided by Heffel’s, Canada’s top art auction house.  According to their website, Heffel “holds over 60% market share of worldwide Canadian art auction sales, with over $275 million in art auction sales since 1995″.  Considering that Heffel only operates in Canada, and is not one of the big international auction houses, the market share that Heffel has is rather impressive.  Even more impressive is the fact that having hammered down the sixth highest grossing Canadian fine art auction at their May 2011 live sale in Vancouver, Heffel have now conducted all 11 of the top grossing sales of Canadian fine art.  Although impressive, these stats suggest that even though Canada’s artistic heritage is inextricably international thanks to its European roots, the framework and mechanics of the Canadian art market are decidedly nationalistic and remain relatively cloistered.

A statistic even more indicative of the level of dominance that Canadian auction house Heffel has over the market for Canadian art comes from a recent Heffel press release which states that: “As the industry leader, Heffel, in the spring 2011 sale, sold more than all of our competitors’ sales totals combined in the 2011 spring season and realized a total value of over 168% of the pre~sale low estimate, with 87% of the consigned lots sold”.  A dominant art market force if ever I saw one!!.  This is not to suggest that Heffel are in any way doing anything wrong as it is through no fault of their own, or of any other auction house, that the Canadian art market is the way that it is.  In fact, Heffel should be commended for their efforts to reach an international audience and promote the work of Canadian artists around the world.  Heffel should also be congratulated for becoming so successful in a market where others have failed.  My purpose for highlighting these Heffel statistics is to show how reliant the Canadian art auction market has been on a single Canadian national auction house and to provide evidence that suggests a highly nationalistic and insular art market.

The last serious attempt by an international auction house to attain a significant share of the market for Canadian art ended in disaster.  In 2001, Sotheby’s joined forces with Canadian auction house Ritchies in an agreement that saw Ritchies provide the space and handle payments for auctions for which Sotheby’s had located the items as well as provided the appraisals and estimates. Failure by Ritchies to pay consignors within an appropriate time frame after an auction in 2009 saw Sotheby’s sever ties with Ritchie’s who declared bankrupt soon after the split. According to an article from at the time:

“Visitors to the Web site for Canadian auction house Ritchie’s will find that the company’s last connection to the sector it once dominated no longer exists. A notice on the company’s site,, confirms that a bankruptcy order was issued against Ritchie’s Inc. on Oct. 26, 2009, with Grant Thornton Limited of Royal Bank Plaza, Toronto, shown as the court-appointed trustee.”

The fact that Sotheby’s already had a presence in Canada that had been active since the late 1960′s suggests that Sotheby’s knew how nationalistic the Canadian art market was and that they would need to join forces with a Canadian national auction house if they were to infiltrate the market for Canadian art to a worthwhile degree.  Unfortunately, it seems that the business model chosen by Sotheby’s was not the right model for the Canadian art market.

As I discussed in my last post, there is strong evidence to suggest that the market for Canadian art is beginning to emerge from the stifled confines of the Canadian art market and achieve the sort of international recognition and market activity that it clearly deserves. My next post, the final on the Canadian art market, will take a further look at some more evidence that supports the positive trend towards a stronger international market for Canadian art.

Canadian Art Auctions Defy Art Market Downturn –

canada art The Complete Canadian Art Market Series   artmarketblog.comIn my final post in this series on the Canadian art market and the market for Canadian art I want to take a look at recent auction results as well as well as the upcoming auctions of Canadian art to see what emerging trends are developing. Having remained relatively resilient during the art market downturn that gripped the market during the GFC, the signs are positive that the market for Canadian art will continue to grow in the currently confused global art market that is experiencing strong sales yet is shrouded in a growing sense of negativity.

The last round of major auctions of Canadian art took place in May 2011 with Heffel, Joyner Waddington’s and Sotheby’s all vying for a slice of the pie. Heffel were the most successful, as one would expect, with their May 2011 live sale in Vancouver going on the record as the sixth highest grossing Canadian fine art auction.  According to Heffel, “The auction exceeded its conservative pre~sale estimate of $8 to $12 million, selling $13.5 million worth of Canadian art and breaking the $1 million mark three times”. Heffel set two new auction records for Jean Paul Lemieux during the May round of auctions, the first of which came with Dimanche which sold for $819,000 followed by the next lot, Les Moniales, which broke the record set with the previous lot with a sale price of $1,023,750.  A rare E.J. Hughes painting from the 1940s was the second work of the sale to sell for over a million dollars blitzing the 700,000-900,000 estimate with a final price of $1,140,750.  The third lot to go over a million was  Jean-Paul Riopelle’s Sans titre which sold for $1,082,250.

Sotheby’s May 2011 Canadian art sale wasn’t as near as successful as Heffel’s but still found success with works under $150,000. The top lot,  a signed work by Jean-Paul Riopelle with an estimate of $800,000 to $1.2 million, failed to find a buyer even though Sotheby’s had a financial interest in the painting.  Also failing to sell during the auction was Tom Thomson’s Early Snow, Algonquin Park which had the second highest estimate of $450,000 to $650,000.  The sale wasn’t a complete failure with lower priced works by Lawren Stewart Harris, James Wilson Morrice, Christopher Pratt and Frederick Simpson Coburn, among others, exceeding their estimate.  David Silcox, president of Sotheby’s Canada, stated in a press release that “The variety and quality of the paintings in this spring’s offering at last brings Canada closer to other countries in the sale of contemporary art

Joyner Waddington’s held their auction of Canadian fine art on the 27 May 2011 and stunned the Canadian art market with their sale of Lawren Harris’s Island Off Greenland, Arctic Sketch XIX, for an astounding $1.77 against an estimate of $500,000-700,000.  The twelve by fifteen inch oil sketch achieved the highest price of any work during spring 2011 Canadian art auction season and entered the top ten most expensive works by Harris to be sold at auction.  Another small by Tom Thomson measuring eight and a half by ten inches also found a buyer at $472,000 against an estimate of $400,000-600,000.   According to Joyner, “The Joyner auction was the top grossing Toronto-based auction of the spring 2011 season”.

As preparations continue for the upcoming November round of auctions of Canadian art, all eyes will be on Bonhams who will be holding their first sale of Fine Canadian Art in New York on November the 29th.  Holding a sale of Canadian art outside of Canada is a huge deal and a big gamble for Bonhams’s which I hope will find success. Heffel will hold their sale on the 24th of November followed by Joyner Waddington’s on the 25th and then Sotheby’s on the 28th.  Previews of the November auctions can be viewed here:


Joyner Waddington’s:



Overall, the market for Canadian art is strongly geared towards the work of the major groups of artists to come out of Canada including The Group of Seven, The Painters Eleven, Les Automatistes and the Eastern Group of Painters.  Recently released books on the Painters Eleven, Les Automatists and abstract painting in Canada as well as the launch of major exhibitions of work by some of Canada’s most famous artists all point towards a growing interest in Canada’s artistic heritage.  What was once a market that struggled to develop an internationally relevant identity is now a blossoming market that is only just beginning to reach its potential while defying the current growth in negativity surrounding the art market.

Top image:

Storage Tanks at Bones Bay, Cracroft Island
Estimate: $175,000 ~ $225,000 CAD
To be offered in our November 24, 2011 sale
of Canadian Post-War & Contemporary Art

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of http://www.artmarketblog.comt The Complete Canadian Art Market Series, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications.

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  • Ricardo Monteverde

    We too feel that Canada will begin to receive
    greater recognition in the world art market.
    Ricardo Monteverde Galleries

  • Ken Boe

    Sometimes when I’m searching for books of poets, and they are Canadian, or if I’m thinking about a Canadian painter, I have this impulse, oh, they fund their artists there so it may not be good just because they are surviving and getting exposure due to their good funding of the arts, and local yokel boosterism. Here in the US, funding is much more difficult, though one has the same response to poets and other artists in academia: Oh, they’re part of that peer circle helping each other to get tenure, or scratching each others backs/publishing/grants for each other based on academic politics, friendships, etc. Perhaps my impulse is irrelevant, though, because one shouldn’t be so sure that the power brokers of the so-called free market are any less subjective, territorial, and being political animals among their own group think, versus another. Perhaps all different markets, or economic systems really represent are different sub-cultures; not statements of quality. Something to think about.

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