A painting by Group of Seven founding member Lawren Harris has been discovered in the art collection of a Vancouver woman.
The woman, whose identity has not been released, is the daughter of the late Toronto artist Gordon A. Davies, a friend of Mr. Harris. Bert Dorpmans, an art appraiser who owns McMaster Framing in Dundas, Ont., flew to Vancouver in late August at the request of the woman's nephew. The family was concerned about the safety of the elderly woman, with a valuable work of art hanging on the wall of her condo.
She has since decided to put the panel board sketch, measuring only 12 inches by 15 inches, up for auction, where it is expected to fetch $300,000-$500,000.
A signature and note on the back of the picture, which was a gift to her father from Mr. Harris, confirmed it was by the Group of Seven artist and the scene was Nerke, Greenland.
Initially, Mr. Dorpmans was concerned that he could not see a signature. "I thought, 'Bugger,' " Mr. Dorpmans said. "But I turned it over and there it was."
Mr. Dorpmans said the woman, thought to be in her mid-80s, regaled him with stories of the Group of Seven, who were all family friends. He also said that her brother was given an Emily Carr painting by their father, and donated it in the elder Mr. Davies's name to the Hamilton Art Gallery.
The newly revealed sketch appears to be the basis for Mr. Harris's large canvas Greenland Mountains, which is owned by the National Gallery of Canada and was featured on the 15-cent postage stamp between 1967 and 1973. Group of Seven members often produced oil sketches of natural scenes on small, rectangular panels that could be easily carried on their travels, and formed the basis of larger works.
The Harris panel is being sold by Sotheby's Canada in association with Ritchies auction house in Toronto on Nov. 24.
David Silcox, president of Sotheby's Canada, told The Globe and Mail the painting is "A zinger ... a rocket kind of painting."
He added that Mr. Harris's Arctic sketches, done in 1930, "have always been right up there at the pinnacle of Harris's sketches. The only thing that comes close to them are some of the mountain sketches [from the 1920s]"
The pre-sale estimate of $300,000-$500,000 placed on the work by Sotheby's suggests the belief that this is an important work. A same-sized sketch of Mount Lefroy had a pre-sale estimate of $200,000-$250,000 when it was sold at Vancouver's Heffel Fine Art Auction House in May, 2006. It sold for $1,667,500 - a record for a Harris oil on board.
The Vancouver auction house also holds the record for a Harris canvas at auction: Pine Tree and Red House, Winter, City Painting II sold in May, 2007, for $2,875,000. Its pre-sale estimated value was $800,000-$1,200,000.
Robert Heffel, vice-president of Heffel's, said he had not been approached about the work. "We hold every Lawren Harris record and we would have been delighted to represent this piece," he said.
He said that they currently have four Harris works to be sold at auction in Vancouver on Nov. 19 with pre-sale estimates listed between $150,000 and $350,000.
Sotheby's also has another Harris painting that will be auctioned Nov. 24 - a large canvas, with a pre-sale estimate of more than $1-million.