Jean Paul Lemieux's canvas Nineteen Ten Remembered sold at auction Thursday for $2 million — $2.34 million with buyer's premium — setting a new record for a contemporary work of Canadian art.
The much-reproduced work shows the Quebec artist as a child, standing between his parents in front of a cold, barren landscape.
It sold to a telephone bidder at Heffel Fine Art auction house in Toronto after spirited bidding. It was expected to be the most valuable offering at Heffel’s auction of Canadian post-war and contemporary art.
"Jean Paul Lemieux was just on fire...We shattered the previous world record for work at auction by a contemporary Canadian artist," David Heffel said after the sale.
The previous record for a Canadian contemporary artwork sold in Canada was $1.6 million, set during the 2006 sale of Jean-Paul Riopelle's Il était une fois une ville. An untitled Riopelle sold for $1.89 million in 2008 at Christie's in New York.
Lemieux's paintings of landscapes and figures are popular in Quebec and many people raised in Quebec recall growing up with a poster or print of Nineteen Ten Remembered on their wall, Robert Heffel said.
The artist, who died in 1990, was often at odds with his artistic contemporaries, who embraced abstract art and Automatism.
The painting has never been displayed in a public gallery. Lemieux gave Nineteen Ten Remembered to his daughters, who sold it to a member of the Archambault family, who sold it to a neighbour who consigned it to the auction.
Another notable sale was Emily Carr's War Canoe, Alert Bay. The 1908 water-colour sold for $1.05 million — or $1.22 million with buyer's premium — making it the most valuable Canadian water-colour.
The auction house said that Lawren Stewart Harris's Rocky Mountain Sketch CXXI (Mount Robson) was another highlight, selling for well above asking.
"After an intense bidding war, the notable piece exceeded the estimate, selling for $1.81 million," the auction house said in a statement released Thursday night. "This was one of two works for which the consignee generously agreed to donate the proceeds to Toronto's Women's College Hospital."
Also on offer Thursday were paintings that once belonged to French hotelier François Dupré, an avid collector who took ownership of Montreal's Ritz-Carleton in the late 1940s.
The whereabouts of his collection was unknown until his heirs recently came forward and revealed the works had been stored in a Montreal bank vault for the past 24 years.
Dupré bought works by Canadian impressionists such as Clarence Alphonse Gagnon, James Wilson Morrice and Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté for display at the hotel.
The auction house said the Dupré collection "surpassed estimates" and sold for $2.27 million.
Heffel said Thursday's auction resulted in $16.73 million in sales. The company said three of the 190 lots sold for more than $1 million.