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‘Electric’ mood at Heffel’s spring sales in Toronto leads to new auction records for Mary Pratt and Takao Tanabe

There are no longer hockey games to watch in Toronto, scene of last night’s marquee spring sales (23 May) at Heffel, or in Vancouver, where the auction firm is based, which may have contributed to the overflowing crowd at the three-session event, with patrons cheering almost as if watching the Maple Leafs or Canucks still competing for the Stanley Cup, professional hockey’s top prize. (Both teams have been eliminated, the Canucks just three days prior.)

“It was just like being at a game,” a Heffel spokesperson said of the early proceedings. “People were cheering. That’s never happened before.” Heffel vice-president Robert Heffel added: “The energy in the room tonight was absolutely electric.”

Jean Paul Riopelle, Verts ombreuses, 1949 Heffel Fine Art Auction House

The good spirits engendered some big numbers, too, with the three sales tallying a total of C$22.6m ($16.5m, all prices include fees) and a 96% sell-through rate. Montreal-born abstractionist Jean Paul Riopelle’s centenary was celebrated far and wide last year, so it was understandable that he would lead the parade, with ten works collectively realising around C$6m ($4.4m), led by the 1949 drip canvas Verts ombreuses, which sold for C$2.7m ($2m), including fees.

That work came from the collection of the late, Danish-born pilot-turned-entrepreneur Torben V. Kristiansen, which wrapped up the evening’s events. His collection alone brought in around C$9.1m ($6.6m). That tally helped push the evening’s total well past the equivalent Heffel auction last spring—which brought in C$17m ($12.4m) across two sessions; Thursday’s total came up just shy of the auction house’s major sales last autumn, which brought in C$23.5m ($17.2m).

Lawren Harris, Mountain Experience, around 1946 Heffel Fine Art Auction House

The Kristiansen collection featured three stunning and rare oil sketches by Tom Thomson, the revered landscape painter who died in 1917, just shy of his 40th birthday, at Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park. Topping the bill was Colourful Maples (1914), which realised C$961,250 (around $701,000), with Fall Woods, Algonquin Park (1914) close behind, selling for C$931,250 ($680,000). Another big earner in the Kristiansen offering was Lawren Harris’s abstract canvas Mountain Experience (around 1946), which took in C$541,250 ($395,000), more than double its high estimate.

Emily Carr, War Canoes, Alert Bay, around 1908 Heffel Fine Art Auction House

Emily Carr stood tall earlier in the evening, as part of the Canadian, Impressionist and modern art session, in which all 24 lots on offer found buyers. Her watercolour on paper War Canoes, Alert Bay (around 1908), a version of which is in the collection of the Audain Art Museum, garnered C$871,250 ($636,000), as did her oil-on-paper composition Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky (around 1935), which more than doubled its high estimate. The latter is a study for a work in the collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery. Group of Seven member A.J. Casson also made a splash, his cloud-filled Summer Sky fetching C$781,250 ($570,000), more than three times its high estimate.

A.J. Casson, Summer Sky Heffel Fine Art Auction House

The post-war and contemporary art session, which launched the evening’s activities, was highlighted by three untitled Riopelle oil compositions. The most cherished, from around 1954, brought in C$1.3m (around $965,000), while a second went for C$661,250 ($483,000) despite its small size and the third fetched C$421,250 ($307,000).

Takao Tanabe, Nootka 1/91: in Hanna Channel, 1991 Heffel Fine Art Auction House

Another session highlight was nonagenarian artist Takao Tanabe’s cinematic seascape painting Nootka 1/91: in Hanna Channel (1991), which had turned heads at Heffel previews and was understandably well received during the auction. It sold for a record C$451,250 ($329,000), more than five times its high estimate of just C$80,000. Mary Pratt’s Girl in My Dressing Gown (1982), an intimate portrait of the late artist’s muse Donna Meaney, followed Tanabe’s offering and also touched patrons, setting a new record for the artist at C$289,250 ($211,000).

At least one US artist made a splash above the border on Thursday. Andy Warhol’s hot pink screenprint Marilyn Monroe (Marilyn) (1967) sold for C$205,250 ($150,000), and his 1975 print portrait of Rolling Stones frontmanMick Jagger surpassed its high estimate of C$100,000 to fetch a satisfying C$157,250 ($115,000).

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