Classic Canadiana on display at Heffel

John Mackie ~ Vancouver Sun
October 26, 2012

In 1979 David and Robert Heffel’s mom took them to Europe. Checking into a Swiss Hotel, they were surprised to come across a bit of British Columbia: several paintings by the great B.C. artist E.J. Hughes.

“In the middle of Switzerland,” laughs David Heffel.

It turns out the hotel owner knew Hughes’ Montreal dealer, Dr. Max Stern, who convinced him to pick up “eight or 10” Hughes paintings.

Fast forward a few decades, and the Heffel brothers are now the owners of the major auction house for Canadian art. Out of the blue, they got a call from the Swiss hotel owner.

“We’ve talked to him about (his) paintings for a long time,” says Robert Heffel, “and after a number of years he’s consigned a couple to us.”

Hence the Heffels’ Nov. 22 auction in Toronto will feature two Hughes paintings from 1976, Above Crofton Wharf and View of a Freighter at Crofton, B.C. Both carry an estimate of $70,000 to $90,000, and can be seen this weekend at an auction preview at the Heffel Gallery (2247 Granville).

There are 168 works in the upcoming auction, which has an estimated value of $7 million to $10 million but could well gross a lot more.

“We’ve kept our estimates really conservative in this sale,” says Robert Heffel.

“We want the market to decide prices, not by us… presenting values that are above the market,” adds David Heffel.

The highest estimate belongs to the luminous 1913 Lawren Harris painting Hurdy Gurdy (est. $400,000 to $600,000), which Harris gave to his daughter Peggy and has never been up for sale until now.

“It’s just a really beautiful painting, a cold, bright winter day in Toronto with lots of light and lots of colour,” says Robert Heffel.

“This is one of the key Harris works of the urban landscape. It’s been widely exhibited, widely reproduced. This is a really, really important painting.”

The same could be said for Montreal l’hiver (est. $250,000 to $350,000), one of several paintings by Jean Paul Lemieux in the auction.

“This painting is one of that lucky bunch that toured behind the Iron Curtain (in 1974-75),” says David Heffel.

“It went to Prague, St. Petersburg and Moscow, as well as Paris. You can see why the curators would have picked this work: When I look at it, it has a little feeling of Red Square and the Russian people. This is Montreal, but you can see more similarities in our two ways of life than differences. And in the 1960s we were all led to believe those differences were quite dramatic.”

Lemieux’s winter scenes tend to be quite sombre. William Kurelek’s King of the Mountain ($250,000 to $350,000), on the other hand, is a delightful slice of Canadiana featuring kids playing atop a snow-covered haystack, while cows munch away on the hay.

In 2005, the Heffels sold J.E.H. MacDonald’s Lake O’Hara and Cathedral Mountain, Rockies for a record $977,500. Now they’re selling a small study for the painting, with an estimate of $200,000 to $250,000.

It’s a banner sale for fans of J.E.H. MacDonald. The Heffels are also selling Morning, Mountain Camp (est. $200,000 to $300,000), a colourful Rockies scene MacDonald painted from inside his room, replete with a red Hudson’s Bay blanket and a kerosene lamp.

There are seven Emily Carr paintings in the auction, including the important 1912 watercolour Alert Bay (est. $200,000 to $300,000). But it’s another work from 1912, Skidegate (est. $400,000 to $600,000), that should attract the most attention. The iconic painting of a totem pole was featured in the landmark 1927 exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada that established Carr’s reputation across Canada.

“That’s when she met Lawren Harris and the Group of Seven, and started painting again,” says Robert Heffel. “She was in her lean years; this painting was in that exhibition.”


 Heffel’s Vancouver Live Auction preview is open Saturday, October 27 ~ Tuesday, October 30, 11 am to 6 pm at 2247 Granville Street, Vancouver


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