Lawren Harris Painting Shatters the Invisible ‘Canadian Ceiling’ on Art Prices

by | Dec 2, 2016 | Canada, Toronto | 4 comments

Is Canadian art more valuable if Americans like it?


Is there a ‘Canadian ceiling’ on our art that can only be shattered if Americans are interested?

Last week’s art auction is a perfect case study for these questions


It was the highly-anticipated auction of a Lawren Harris painting, Mountain Forms. Steve Martin loves that painting. It was the showstopper for a special exhibit of Harris paintings that Steve Martin curated earlier this fall.

The pre-sale estimate for the painting was $3 to $5 million. Steve Martin made a public announcement that he thought the painting was worth $10 million, double the price of any other Canadian painting.


Was Martin right? YES!


TORONTO – The Lawren Harris painting “Mountain Forms” has set a towering new benchmark in Canadian art by selling for over $11.2 million at auction, more than doubling the previous record established in 2002.


Heffel Fine Art Auction House had estimated the 1926 oil canvas depicting Mount Ishbel in the Sawback Range in the Rocky Mountains would fetch between $3 million and $5 million — the highest ever placed on a Harris piece, said president David Heffel.


Offers streamed in for the 60-by-70-inch (152.4-by-177.8-centimetre) canvas at a blistering pace at the fall live auction, held at the Design Exchange in Toronto on Wednesday night. Within minutes, the bids had steamrolled through the high end of the estimate


When the hammer fell, the piece sold for $9.5 million — a new Canadian record. Coupled with an 18 per cent buyer’s premium, an auction house fee, the final tally was boosted to $11,210,000.


“One quick crack at a hammer, and one giant leap for the Canadian art market,” said Heffel to enthusiastic applause from the assembled audience.




In anticipation of this auction, I have had a wonderful time, following the trail of the Group of Seven throughout the fall.

I went to McMichael Art Gallery just north of Toronto to see the largest collection of the Group of Seven. I went to Huntsville to see the outdoor murals of the Group of Seven. I went to the special exhibit at the AGO where the Group of Seven joins Monet and van Gogh for the Mystical Landscapes Tour, departing for Paris in the spring.

I completed my tour with a trip downtown last week to see Harris’s Mountain Forms on the day of the auction.

I had no idea that a preview is the best way to see paintings!

Museums are designed around what is best for the artwork. Previews are designed around getting the best price at auction. Museums shield artwork from natural light. Previews let the light in. Art looks its best in natural light. Museums hide their most valuable pieces behind a layer of protective glass. There was no glass at the preview. I had the absolute pleasure of seeing artwork in a setting that is designed to showcase the art, with lots of space and light.

Apart from the fabulous artwork, I enjoyed looking around at the other patrons, wondering who might bid that evening.


Have you bought at an art auction?

Lawren Harris: Mountain Forms


The auction preview was held in the former headquarters of the Toronto Stock Exchange in a beautiful Art Deco building. This little two-story jewel is incorporated into the massive TD Centre, a complex of black steel buildings that dominate the business district in Toronto.

The light and space in the viewing room was perfect to see the paintings from every angle. The preview did its job: I wanted to buy every painting in the room! I could visualize how each one would look in our house … great!

Lawren Harris’s Mountain Forms is a scene from the Rocky Mountains

I love Harris’s painting because it reminds me of the summer that I spent in the Rockies. It was 1972. I was 18. Other that my trip to Toronto Island the summer before, I had lived all my life in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. I was half-way through university and had never been away from home. It was time for a summer adventure.

I was  beyond thrilled to land a job as a chambermaid at a summer resort in Jasper National Park. Before I left on my 5-day train trip across the country, I pictured a fabulous summer at a stunning 4-star resort in an exotic locale. I arrived at Miette Hot Springs in the absolute middle of nowhere. We were surrounded by mountains in all directions. The closest town was Jasper, an hour away.

The ‘summer resort’ was a collection of rustic cabins and a restaurant. It snowed for the first month. However, if you take a group of college kids from all over the country, plunk them in the middle of the mountains and tell them that this is home for the next 4 months, it can turn out to be a fabulous experience …. and it was. I thought I was going to get fired when I started singing and dancing as we washed windows while it snowed. Instead, I got promoted to waitress. This was the top job because we got tips! I had a summer romance with the cook. He was 19 and he had a car …. with an 8-track. I had the best summer ever!

I looked up Miette for this post, expecting to see that it is now a 4-star resort, like I imaged a lifetime ago. But no, it is the same. It hasn’t changed. Its website says:

Built in 1938, Miette Hot Springs Resort offers a real rustic experience

I can attest to that: it was a rustic experience.

The website shows pictures of mountain goats, just like in my photo of Miette from 1972.

Miette Hot Springs is the hottest hot springs in the Rockies. Here is a description that I found online:

One of the most intriguing and relaxing attractions to Jasper National Park and the Canadian Rockies are its hotsprings, and of those, the Miette are some the hottest, most interesting, and most enjoyable.

The Miette Hotsprings, photo courtesy Parks Canada.

The Miette Hotsprings, photo courtesy Parks Canada.

Water as hot as 53.9ºC flows out of these springs in a narrow canyon along Sulphur Creek. Heated geothermally, the Miette Hotsprings are the hottest known springs in the Canadian Rockies.

Each minute approximately 800 litres of steaming water pours out of the natural ducts along the creek. Rich in calcium, sulphate and hydrogen-sulphide, the water is collected, cooled, chlorinated and filtered, then pumped into pools.

The area also offers excellent wildlife viewing opportunities.

Suggested length of visit: 1 to 2 hours
Location: 61 km east of Jasper, Alberta
Nearest full service towns: Jasper and Hinton, Alberta


Did you see the suggested length of visit? …  1 to 2 hours! … How about 4 months?

I hiked everywhere in those mountains that summer. I don’t need a $10 million dollar painting to remind me of that summer when I fell in love with the Rocky Mountains …. but it would be nice!

PS: I went into the hot springs pool only once that summer. It was totally relaxing and made me want to sleep. I had no time for sleep that summer. We were too busy having fun in the middle of nowhere!

Why do we love art?


Sometimes, a painting can take us back to a time or a place or an experience. What would you pay for that painting?

Most of the other paintings in the auction sold for prices that were in the range of the pre-sale estimates.

This lovely painting by Marc-Aurèle Fortin sold for $500,000, well below its estimate of $700,000 to $900,000.

This A Y Jackson sold for $283,000, the low end of its estimate of $250,000 to $350,000


We need Steve Martin to tell us that A Y Jackson is worth more!

Gustave Caillebotte: Iris bleus, Jardin du Petit Gennevilliers


This is the painting that I would have bought at the auction


Gustave Caillebotte was an impressionist painter. He came from a wealthy family and he used his fortune to support his fellow artists and friends, notably Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir and Camille Pissarro. He bought their paintings when no one else would. He paid the rent on their studios. He was instrumental in establishing Monet’s career and financial survival.

Caillebotte built a garden estate at Gennevilliers, just a few miles down the road from Giverny where Monet built his home and famous water lily pond. Caillebotte’s Iris painting in the auction was done at Gennevilliers. Caillebotte and Monet exchanged many ideas on gardening and painting. Known more as a patron than a painter, Caillebotte’s paintings were largely ignored until 1964 when the Art Institute of Chicago bought one of his paintings. The Musée d’Orsay owns 40 of his works.

Last spring, we went to Giverny to visit Monet’s home and gardens. There is a wonderful little museum in Giverny that had a special exhibit on Caillebotte’s paintings. The exhibit is currently showing at the Museo Thyssen in Madrid until January. Here is a link to a great article with photos about Caillebotte in the Financial Times.

Caillebotte’s Iris painting sold for $678,500 at the auction. The highest price paid for a Monet topped $80 million. Harris’s Mountain Forms sold for more than $11 million. Caillebotte’s Iris painting sold for a fraction of those prices.


Some day, if I have a million dollars, I will buy one of Caillebotte’s paintings.

This is a picture of my computer screen as I watched the auction in real time


I had a a debate with myself about attending the auction to witness the sale of Harris’s Mountain Forms. In the end, I decided to watch it live on Heffel’s auction site. It was very exciting to watch. The cameras zoomed in on the competing telephone bidders. The price rose to stratospheric prices very quickly. Since I was not bidding, I could relax, pour a glass of wine and enjoy the show!

Canadian art has broken the ‘Canadian ceiling.’

Who bought Mountain Forms?

Heffel was tight-lipped on the identity of the buyer, in line with the auction house’s strict confidentiality policy. He would only say that the prized piece had found “a great new home by a passionate, dedicated and sincere collector,” and expressed confidence that the public would have the chance in future to revisit the work.

When the ‘big reveal’ happens, I will let you know!


I hope you have enjoyed this trip as we followed the Group of Seven these last few weeks.

I can’t wait to see the reception in Paris when the Group of Seven hangs with Monet and van Gogh.


See you next week!

Rose Ann MacGillivray

Rose Ann MacGillivray

World Heritage Traveller at
I love visiting World Heritage Sites, celebrating the world’s most fascinating places and cultures, and most of all, having fun on a trip. Join me on the road to fun and fascinating places. Thanks for reading – and remember to add your e-mail below for updates!
Rose Ann MacGillivray