05/16/2013 01:22 EDT | Updated 07/16/2013 05:12 EDT

Riopelle abstract, Carr forest scene top sellers at auction

A large Jean-Paul Riopelle abstract painting and an Emily Carr canvas she once donated to raise funds for Second World War efforts were among highlights of a strong sale of historic and contemporary Canadian art in Vancouver Wednesday night.

Composition, a 1955 palette-knife canvas from Quebec artist Riopelle, was the night's top seller, soaring to a final price of $1,228,500 (including auction house premium) — double the low-end of its presale estimate of $600,000 to $800,000.

Carr's 1942 forest scene Old Timer sold for $936,000, well over its presale estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. The beloved West Coast artist initially donated the oil canvas to a Red Cross charity auction during the Second World War. To her delight, then-CBC Radio host Alice Hemming — whom she listened to daily — purchased the piece. The canvas was passed down in Hemming's family and returns to Canada after about seven decades in a private English collection.

Canadian artworks consigned by the Cultural Heritage Foundation of the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal (PSBGM) garnered strong prices as well, with the collection selling for a total of $1.6 million. A highlight from the school board's collection was A.Y. Jackson's Quebec Village (Winter, Saint-Fidèle), which sold for $585,000.

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Buyers of the school board's works "are not only taking home a piece of Canadian history, they are also contributing to scholarships for graduates of the English Montreal School Board to pursue post-secondary education," Heffel president David Heffel noted in a statement.

Other notable artworks sold included:

- The Carr watercolour Cape Mudge Totem Poles ($380,250).

- Eight Riopelle works he donated to one-time mistress Belle Burke during a tumultuous mid-century affair ($444,600 in total).

- B.C. artist Gordon Appelbe Smith's 1965 abstract Red Beach, featured on the cover of Heffel's contemporary catalogue this season ($93,600, three times the high-end of its presale estimate).

- An untitled Paul-Émile Borduas work from his calligraphic series ($409,500).

Overall, the Heffel auction garnered $11.5 million in sales. The Canadian spring live auction season continues on June 3, when Toronto-based Joyner will offer 174 lots for sale.

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Meanwhile, the New York auction season thundered forward at a staggering pace. Wednesday night's contemporary sale at Christie's sold a whopping $495 million US worth of art and set a flurry of records.

Notable art sold included pieces by Jackson Pollock (the drip painting Number 19, 1948, $58.4 million US), Roy Lichtenstein (Woman with Flowered Hat, $56.1 million US) and Jean-Michel Basquiat (Dustheads, $48.8 million US) — with each sale marking a new record price for the trio of influential American artists.