Rare Paul Kane painting highlight of Heffel auction

Eighty paintings in Heffel auction have an estimate of $12 million to $17 million.

Article content

Paul Kane was Canada’s most famous artist before the emergence of Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven . But most of the 19th century artist’s paintings are in institutions, which makes Kane paintings that come up for auction very rare, and very valuable.


Article content

“Our family has been in the art business since 1978, and we’ve never had the opportunity to sell a Paul Kane,” said David Heffel of the Heffel Gallery.

That will change Dec. 1, when Kane’s 1855 painting Assiniboine Hunting Buffalo will go up for sale at the Heffel auction . The pre-auction estimate is $2.5 million to $3.5 million.

It’s on view at the Heffel Gallery at 2247 Granville St. through Oct. 27 before heading for previews in Montreal and Toronto. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, you have to make an appointment to get in at .

Assiniboine Hunting Buffalo is an oil-on-canvas that depicts two men from the Assiniboine First Nation on horseback hunting a buffalo, one with a bow and arrow, one with a spear.


Article content

The prairie scene was done in Kane’s Toronto studio almost a decade after he had witnessed it in 1846. Kane made several trips across Western Canada between 1845 and 1848, doing sketches and watercolours he later worked up in his studio.

Many of his works show First Nations’ life before white settlers arrived and changed the West.

“The critical legacy of Kane’s art is a visual record of culture and landscape that soon would be the archive of a lost time and place,” writes Kenneth Lister in the auction catalogue.

In this case, Kane painted the scene three times — one version is in the National Gallery in Ottawa.

Heffel said this version sold in 1990 for $400,000, but prices have gone up. Kane’s 1845-46 painting Scene in the Northwest-Portrait set a Canadian record when it sold for $5.06 million at a Sotheby’s auction in Toronto in 2002. (It was surpassed by the $11.2 million paid for Lawren Harris’s Mountain Forms in 2016.)


Article content

Heffel said the last major Kane canvas that came up for auction was in 2004. So this is the first one to come up for auction in 17 years.

There are 80 lots in the auction, including seven paintings by Emily Carr , six by Harris and five each by Jean Paul Riopelle, A.Y. Jackson, David Milne and A.J. Casson. The overall auction estimate is $12 million to $17 million.

Emily Carr’s Cordova Drift.
Emily Carr’s Cordova Drift. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

The key Carr is Cordova Drift, a 1931 oil of a natural seaside scene near Victoria that is estimated at $2 million to $3 million.

“It’s a wonderful Carr,” said Heffel. “It’s got great movement in the trees, a nice bright ocean and sky, and very interesting foreground. But it also has the presence of man, with a seaside cottage. The (arbutus) tree in the centre pops out, that’s what draws you in.”


Article content

Paintings like this often take a long time to come to market.

“Our first contact with the family that consigned this painting was in November 2000, after we sold (Carr’s) War Canoes for a million dollars,” he said. “We didn’t think it would come to market any time soon, but after 21 years we have it in our sale.”

Other paintings stay in a family for generations, such as Thomson’s Spring, 1916, (est. $600,000 to $800,000), which was last sold in 1920. The small oil-on-board sketch shows Thomson’s beloved Algonquin Park at the point where winter’s snow and ice is almost gone thanks to the spring thaw.

“It is a scene in motion, painted with a bold treatment of paint and abbreviated, yet delicate, brushwork,” notes Thomson expert Joan Murray in the catalogue. “It quietly dazzles.”


Article content

Guido Molinari’s Bi-sériel violet-ocre (est. $200,000 to $300,000) on the other hand, is most definitely not quiet. Ten-foot-tall and 7 1/2-foot wide, it consists of a dozen colourful vertical stripes.

“Based on scale, it feels like it’s wrapped right around you,” said Heffel.

The sleeper of the auction might be a charming 1973 William Kurelek painting, North American Success Story ($40,000 to $60,000). It shows a nuclear family in front of their suburban home in winter, with two cars in the garage.

Kurelek made his own frames, and in this case the frame looks like the side of the house — wood boards on top, bricks on the bottom. There probably isn’t another one like it.

[email protected]

David Heffel and Ainsley Heffel with Guido Molinari’s painting: Bi-seriel violet-ocre.
David Heffel and Ainsley Heffel with Guido Molinari’s painting: Bi-seriel violet-ocre. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG
William Kurelek’s North American Success Story.
William Kurelek’s North American Success Story.
Tom Thomson’s Spring, 1916.
Tom Thomson’s Spring, 1916.



Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

File source

Show More

Related Articles

Back to top button