Harris sketch nets $175,000 at auction

A Lawren Harris sketch bought for just $70 back in the 1950s fetched $175,000 Monday to become the biggest seller at the Sotheby’s Canada spring auction.

Emily Carr’s Cathedral

Emily Carr’s Cathedral

TORONTO — A Lawren Harris sketch bought for just $70 back in the 1950s fetched $175,000 Monday to become the biggest seller at the Sotheby’s Canada spring auction.

Mts: Emarald Lake (sic), an oil on board depicting snow-capped peaks in British Columbia, went to an unidentified bidder in the room, reaching the high end of its pre-sale estimate. The $175,000 included the buyer’s premium.

Measuring 30 by 38 centimetres, the piece had been bought by a woman at the Group of Seven artist’s studio in Toronto in 1955, said Bert Dorpmans, the work’s appraiser.

She never exhibited it before passing it on to her son less than five years ago. He and his wife, who live north of Toronto, decided to sell the sketch in Monday’s auction so it would be properly taken care of, added Dorpmans.

“Having no children, they were quite concerned about this painting ending up in a garage sale,” Dorpmans, who works with McMaster Framing and Gallery in Dundas, Ont., said, adding the couple chose to remain unidentified.

Sotheby’s, in association with Ritchies, moved 70 per cent of its lots Monday for total sales of $3.5 million, including the buyers’ premiums.

That’s short of its pre-sale estimate of $4 million to $5.5 million.

Sotheby’s fall sale in November — in which a Harris was also the biggest seller — also failed to reach its pre-sale estimate, but Sotheby’s Canada president David Silcox remains optimistic.

“Given the economic times, we’ve done really quite well,” Silcox said in an interview after Monday’s sale.

“I’ve been keeping an eye on the international art auctions — some have done a little bit better . . . but a lot of them have done a lot worse,” he added.

“So I think we’re actually seeing in Canada a kind of stability that the art market here has shown over the years, which is kind of a steady growth and nothing too wildly spectacular.”

Other big sellers at Monday’s auction included another Harris panel, North of Lake Superior, which sold for $100,250.