TORONTO - Comic legend Steve Martin's passionate evangelism of Lawren Harris seems to have boosted interest in the Canadian painter, the president of Heffel Fine Art Auction House said after a blockbuster sale.
Three paintings by the Group of Seven star shattered pre-sale estimates and sold for about $9.5 million on Thursday. David Heffel wouldn't say where the buyers were from, but noted that bids throughout the night came from around the globe.
"Steve Martin generates a lot of attention in the media, for sure," Heffel said of the comic's possible influence on pushing Heffel bids into the stratosphere.
"It's a very positive, exciting development."
Heffel's fall sale came as Martin, an art collector and fervent Harris fan, is doing his best to make the Canadian painter a household name in the United States.
The star of "Parenthood," "Cheaper by the Dozen," and "The Jerk" has co-curated a retrospective of Harris paintings at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.
"The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris" will also head to Boston and Toronto next year.
"It's quite heartwarming to see a great show of Lawren Harris down at the Hammer Museum but (also) to see the reviews generated by that — it was featured in the New York Times, the LA Times and Bloomberg," noted Heffel.
He enthused over being lucky enough to attend a star-studded gala at the Hammer that coincided with the opening of the Harris exhibit in October.
Celebs including Julia Roberts, Will Ferrell and Jane Lynch were among the movers-and-shakers in attendance, and Heffel said it appeared many were discovering Harris for the first time. He expected the artist's fame to only grow.
"They're custodians of popular culture and in the media, a lot of those individuals," Heffel said of celebrity influence on the art world.
"When they focus attention on a great Canadian artist like Lawren Harris it adds exposure to him on a much broader base, to a new audience."
The top-selling Harris canvas, entitled "Mountain and Glacier," set an auction record for the artist and sold for $4.6 million, far above the expected $1.5 million.
Another canvas by the Brantford, Ont., native, "Winter Landscape," had a pre-sale estimate of as high as $1.6 million, but sold for $3.6 million. The third Harris painting, "Winter in the Ward," fetched just over $1.1 million — well over the pre-auction estimate of up to $700,000. Those prices include an 18 per cent buyer's premium.
Heffel said the lower loonie has also encouraged foreign interest in Canadian art, but added "it really boils down to great pieces."
Other records included an Alex Colville painting entitled "Harbour," which set an auction record for the artist by collecting almost $1.9 million. Meanwhile, Jean Paul Riopelle's 1950s canvas entitled "Sans titre" was expected to sell for as much as $700,000, but sold for more than $1.2 million. Riopelle's "Jour de fetes" more than doubled its estimate and sold for $531,000.