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visual arts

A.J. Casson's Street in Glen Williams

A large oil on canvas by the Group of Seven's A.J. Casson, Street in Glen Williams, was expected to do well at the spring auction of high-end Canadian art Tuesday organized by Toronto's Joyner Waddington's. And, thanks to spirited competition among three bidders, the Casson exceeded expectations, selling for a record $542,800, including buyer's premium.

The sale of the 1938 painting was the undoubted high point of the Joyner sale, which saw about 70 per cent of the 334 lots it had up for bidding sell for a total of just over $3-million, including premium. Going into the sale, the auction house estimated the pre-sale value of its wares at $3-$5-million, exclusive of premium.

The Casson - a leafy, autumnal portrait of a small town near Toronto - carried a pre-sale estimate of $200,000-$250,000, the highest such valuation ever accorded a Casson canvas. Mr. Casson, who joined the Group of Seven in 1926, "recorded small towns in every season," Canadian art critic and historian Paul Duval wrote in 1980, "and Street in Glen Williams is unquestionably his key autumn portrayal." At the time of his death, in 1992, Mr. Casson had been the last surviving member of the Group, whose original incarnation was established in 1920.

Bidding for Street in Glen Williams began at $180,000, then bounded in increments of $10,000, then $20,000 before reaching its hammer price of $460,000. The clinching bid came from a western Canadian buyer. The previous record for a Casson , $489,100, including premium, was also set by Joyner, in May 2005.

Joyner vice-president Rob Cowley said he was pleased with the overall results of Tuesday's sale but acknowledged "there were some disappointments." A large winter scene by Quebec master Jean Paul Lemieux, Un Femme en hiver, for instance, went into the auction with an impressive $200,000-$250,000 estimate but bidding never got going and, at the $180,000 mark, it was declared unsold. Also performing below expectations (and failing to sell) were two oils on panels by the Group of Seven's F. H. Varley. One, a landscape painted around 1932, was expected to fetch between $125,000 and $150,000 but was out of commission after bidding stalled at $100,000; the other, a landscape as well, painted in B.C., had an estimate on its low end of $60,000 but bidding never exceeded $48,000.

Another poor performer was Pine Island, an A.Y. Jackson oil sketch finished on Georgian Bay in 1919, one year before Jackson joined the Group of Seven. Pre-sale, Joyner anticipated it would garner between $50,000 and $70,000. However, its highest bid was only $38,000.

Still, there were several bright spots in addition to the Casson. One was Sans titre, a large oil on canvas completed in 1956 by Marcelle Ferron, one of the founders of Quebec's famous Automatiste movement. Its pre-sale estimate was $80,000-$100,000 and it sold for $118,000, including premium. Flat Paraire Pantry, a large ceramic-and-wood assemblage by Saskatchewan's Vic Cicansky, sold for almost $13,000, including premium - easily smashing the previous record of $9,900 for a Cicansky set in 1999. Another Saskatchewan artist who did well was the 75-year-old landscape painter Ivan Eyre. All five Eyre canvasses consigned to Joyner sold in the mid to high-five figures, including Mountain Lines '87 and The River (1986), each of which sold for $82,600, well over their pre-sale estimates.

The spring auction season of important Canadian art continues Wednesday evening with a sale of 139 lots by Sotheby's Canada in Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum.

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