Cowley Abbott announces highlights included in fall auction of Canadian and international masters

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Cowley Abbott announces highlights included in fall auction of Canadian and international masters
Helen McNicoll, The Chintz Sofa, circa 1912.

TORONTO.- Rare and important artworks from several prominent private and public collections will go under the auction hammer in Cowley Abbott’s fall auction of Canadian and international masters on Wednesday, December 6. This two-session live auction is valued at over $10 million.

Highlights of the first session include two canvases by abstract painter Guido Molinari, deaccessioned by the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) and five notable works by Canadian artists William James Bennett, Jack Bush, Marc-Aurèle Fortin, Jean Paul Lemieux and David Milne, from the collection of the late Joe and Anita Robertson.

Born in Montreal, Molinari (1933-2004) was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1971 and achieved international renown, having exhibited in New York and at the 1968 Venice Biennale, and was featured in retrospectives at the National Gallery of Canada, Art Gallery of Ontario and Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. His art is actively pursued by collectors around the world. Molinari is represented by major works in the AGO’s collection, as well as across Canada. Following museum guidelines, the proceeds of deaccessioning go towards future acquisitions.

The two works up for auction are Seriel, 1966 (auction estimate: $125,000 - $150,000) and Quantifcateur, 1981 (auction estimate: $70,000 - $90,000).
“It is our privilege to represent the Art Gallery of Ontario and the collection of the late Joe and Anita Robertson in the offering of these Canadian artworks. Our firm has a history of success in the sale of Molinari’s work and they are already inviting strong interest from collectors. It is a pleasure to collaborate with our colleagues and neighbours at the AGO and we are thrilled to donate a portion of our commission to support future acquisitions by the institution.” – Rob Cowley, President, Cowley Abbott

From the collection of the late Joe and Anita Robertson, prominent Niagara region businesspeople and philanthropists, comes four spectacular paintings and a collection of four prints. The Robertson’s made major financial contributions to the performing arts and health organizations, and were active supporters of the United Way, among many other charitable causes.

From an early New York canvas by David Milne (Billowing Trees, estimate $100,000 - $150,000); to a rare, large canvas by Jack Bush of Port Loring (Sunset at Port Loring, estimate $25,000 - $35,000); to William James Bennett’s captivating scenes of Niagara Falls (four aquatints, estimate $15,000 - $20,000) and a pair of celebrated subjects by Quebec masters, Jean Paul Lemieux (Femme en noir, estimate: $150,000 - $200,000) and Marc-Aurèle Fortin (Vieille maison, estimate $40,000 - $60,000), each work of art was carefully chosen by the Robertsons, who have been advised by Brett Sherlock through the auction process. Cowley Abbott will donate a portion of their selling commission to the United Way Niagara Falls in memory of Joe, Anita and their daughter Laura, who passed away in 2018. An online auction of artwork from the Robertson Family Collection will also be held by Cowley Abbott this fall.

The second session of the live auction event is devoted entirely to the final sale of a landmark three-session auction of one of Canada’s most prominent, well-known and extensively-exhibited private art collections. Expertly curated over 60 years, the collection of rare and remarkable artworks features prime example, museum-quality paintings, drawings and sculptures by Canada’s most celebrated historical artists.

With two-thirds sold to-date for nearly $30 million, it is already the highest-grossing single collection of Canadian art to ever sell at auction. The sales through Cowley Abbott have achieved over 20 artist records, with nine artworks selling in excess of $1 million and 80 of the 100 works of art sold exceeding the high-end pre-sale auction estimate. The final session is rich in important and rare art by celebrated Canadian historical artists, including the members of the Group of Seven, Emily Carr, Cornelius Krieghoff, Helen McNicoll and Paul Peel.

The two-session live auction, Important Canadian & International Art and Artwork from An Important Private Collection (Part Three), takes place on Wednesday, December 6 at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. EST respectively at the Globe and Mail Centre, 351 King St. East, Toronto. It will also be livestreamed online at, allowing for simultaneous in-person, telephone, absentee and real-time online bidding – enabling prospective buyers to participate from anywhere in the world.

Before hitting the auction block, highlights will be previewed at Montreal’s Mount Stephen Hotel from November 9th to 11th and then all artworks included in the two-session live sale will be exhibited at Cowley Abbott’s gallery, 326 Dundas Street West, located across the street from the Art Gallery of Ontario, free for the public to view from November 16th to December 5th.

Preceding the official November fall previews, a free pop-up public exhibition, Important Canadian and International Art Selections, will feature roughly 70 artworks from the two sales, on display in the Cowley Abbott Toronto Gallery from October 23rd to November 3rd.

Additional fall auction highlights include:

Andy Warhol, Queen Elizabeth II (Reigning Queens), Auction Estimate: $175,000 - $225,000: Andy Warhol’s colour screen prints of Queen Elizabeth II are highly-coveted worldwide. In June 2023, Cowley Abbott sold a rare set of four colour print screens from the Reigning Queens series (1985) from the collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery-Qaumajuq, which attracted international bidding, ultimately selling for $936,000. Session 1 - Fall Auction of Important Canadian and International Art.

Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger, Auction Estimate: $135,000 - $175,000: Warhol was fascinated by pop culture and captured many famous individuals in his art, including The Rolling Stones’ frontman Mick Jagger. His creative relationship with the singer in the 70s included many artistic collaborations including their iconic Sticky Finger album cover. Session 1 - Fall Auction of Important Canadian and International Art.

Clarence Gagnon, Ice Harvest, Quebec, 1935, Auction Estimate: $400,000 - $600,000: Major works by Gagnon such as this are very rare. The large-scale canvas depicts a highly celebrated and cherished subject for the artist: ice harvesting in Quebec. The canvas is expected to challenge the auction record for Gagnon’s work. Session 2 - Artwork from An Important Private Collection.

Helen McNicoll, The Chintz Sofa, circa 1912, Auction Estimate: $250,000 - $350,000: McNicoll was an impressionist painter and one of Canada’s most notable female artists. This well-known work has exhibited extensively and internationally for over a century, most recently in the 2023 exhibition, Cassatt‒McNicoll: Impressionists Between Worlds at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Session 2 - Artwork from An Important Private Collection

Arthur Lismer, Ragged Lake, Algonquin Park, 1914, Auction Estimate: $250,000 - $350,000 (canvas) and $60,000 - $80,000 (preparatory sketch): This oil canvas and its preparatory oil sketch date to an important early trip to Algonquin Park taken by Lismer and Tom Thomson, just a few years prior to the formation of the Group of Seven. This collection has already featured the sale of two record-setting sketches by the artist and the sketch here is expected to challenge the record. This is a rare offering of a canvas and related sketch in the same auction. Session 2 - Artwork from An Important Private Collection.

JEH MacDonald, Laurentian Hillside, Auction Estimate: $250,000 - $350,000 (canvas) and $20,000 - $30,000 (preparatory oil sketch): Created during an early, foundational painting trip by future Group of Seven members, MacDonald and Lawren Harris. The pair of works have exhibited extensively across Canada and globally. Session 2 - Artwork from An Important Private Collection.

Emily Carr, Nirvana, circa 1930, Auction Estimate: $250,000 - $350,000: A well-known work by Carr, this fourth and final major work by Carr from the celebrated private collection relates to a 1912 watercolour currently in the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, as well as a 1930 canvas in another prominent private collection. Session 2 - Artwork from An Important Private Collection.

Jean Paul Lemieux, Jeune fille au chandail jaune (1964), Auction Estimate: $550,000 - $650,000: First featured in a quickly sold-out exhibition at Montreal’s Galerie Agnès Lefort in 1965, this major canvas by Quebec master Jean Paul Lemieux captivates viewers and is expected to invite excited bidding in December. Session 1 - Fall Auction of Important Canadian and International Art.

Jack Bush, Bridge Passage (1975), Auction Estimate: $300,000 - $400,000: One of two major canvases by the celebrated Canadian colourfield painter, his works have demanded strong prices in recent auction seasons, including a record price for Column on Browns, sold by Cowley Abbott in fall 2020 for $870,000. Being held in Canadian and American collections and exhibited on both sides of the border, Bridge Passage makes its auction debut this fall. Session 1 - Fall Auction of Important Canadian and International Art.

Jack Bush, Rose Red & Red (1966), Auction estimate: $400,000 - $600,000: First exhibited at the Sao Paulo IX Biennial in 1967, the canvas has been included in exhibitions across Canada since it was painted, most recently as part of the travelling Bush exhibition organized by the Esker Foundation in Calgary. Session 1 - Fall Auction of Important Canadian and International Art.

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