Rare Paul Kane painting highlight from the Heffel auction


Eighty paintings in the Heffel auction are valued at $ 12 million to $ 17 million.

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Paul Kane was Canada’s most famous artist prior to the making of Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven. But most of the artist’s 19th century paintings are in institutions, which makes Kane paintings that are auctioned very rare and very valuable.


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

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

It will be on view at the Heffel Gallery on 2247 Granville St. through October 27, before it premieres in Montreal and Toronto. Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, you have to make an appointment for admission at heffel.com/auction/.

Assiniboine Hunting Buffalo is an oil on canvas painting depicting two men of the Assiniboine First Nation on horseback hunting a buffalo, one with a bow and arrow, one with a spear.


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The prairie scene was filmed in Kane’s Toronto studio nearly a decade after seeing it in 1846. Kane made several trips through western Canada between 1845 and 1848 and made sketches and watercolors, which he later worked out in his studio.

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

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

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

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


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Heffel said the last major Kane canvas to go up for auction was in 2004, so this is the first to go up for auction in 17 years.

The auction comprises 80 lots, including seven paintings by Emily Carr, six by Harris and five each by Jean Paul Riopelle, AY Jackson, David Milne and AJ Casson. The total auction estimate is $ 12 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 from a natural coastal scene near Victoria, valued at $ 2-3 million.

“It’s a wonderful carr,” said Heffel. “There is a lot of movement in the trees, a beautiful bright ocean and sky, and a very interesting foreground. But it also has the human presence, with a house by the sea. The (strawberry) tree in the middle pops out, that attracts you. “


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It often takes a long time for such paintings to come onto the market.

“Our first contact with the family who consigned this painting was in November 2000 after we (Carrs) sold War Canoes for a million dollars,” he said. “We didn’t think it would hit the market that quickly, but after 21 years we have it on offer.”

Other paintings remained in family hands for generations, such as Thomson’s Spring, 1916 (estimate $ 600,000 to $ 800,000), which was last sold in 1920. The little oil sketch shows Thomson’s beloved Algonquin Park where winter snows and the ice has almost disappeared thanks to spring thawing.

“It is a scene in motion, painted with a bold treatment of colors and a shortened but fine brushwork,” notes Thomson expert Joan Murray in the catalog. “It blinds quietly.”


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On the other hand, Guido Molinari’s Bi-sériel violet-ocher (estimated at $ 200,000 to $ 300,000) is definitely not calm. It is three feet high and 7 1/2 feet wide, and is made up of a dozen brightly colored vertical stripes.

“Given the size, it feels like it’s wrapped right around you,” said Heffel.

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

Kurelek made his own frames, and in this case the frame looks like the side of the house – wooden boards above, bricks below. There is probably no one else who is like that.


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
The North American success story of William Kurelek.
The North American success story of William Kurelek.
Tom Thomson's Spring, 1916.
Tom Thomson’s Spring, 1916.



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