A British man who spent about $50 on a painting at a rummage sale because he liked the look of the frame struck it rich this week at a Toronto auction when the artwork itself — a vintage watercolour depiction of Pacific Coast totem poles by the well-known Canadian artist Walter Phillips — sold for nearly $80,000.
The 52-x41-centimetre painting was completed in the late 1920s during a tour of First Nations communities along the B.C. coast by Phillips, a British-born artist, teacher and critic who spent much of his career in Winnipeg and Calgary.
The painting, expected to sell for about $15,000, drew a top bid nearly five times greater and sold for $78,000, including auction fees.
A noted watercolourist who captured images of native culture and other iconic Canadian scenes, Phillips pioneered Japanese-style woodcut printing in Canada and became the country's leading printmaker in the first half of the 20th century.
The sale of the lost-and-found painting from Britain, titled The Hoh-Hok Houseposts at Karlukwees, was the highlight of Bonhams sale of Canadian art on Monday in Toronto.
"When we received the image from our colleagues in the U.K., we realized the importance of this painting — in terms of the image, date, condition and size of the work," Jack Kerr-Wilson, president of Bonhams Canada, told Postmedia News.
"We were cautious in our estimate, and are obviously delighted with the outcome."
Charles Lanning, a Bonhams official in the U.K., told British media an art lover from Devon was interested only in the artwork's oak frame when he recently made his lucky purchase.
"He didn't want the painting," Lanning told the Daily Mail. But he added that the man researched the artist's name on the Internet and soon realized the watercolour was probably worth much more than the frame.
"He was pleased with the estimated price, so you can imagine how he felt with the final sale price," Fanning told the newspaper.
In an unpublished manuscript about watercolour painting, Phillips wrote about his time in the B.C. coastal village of Karlukwees, noting "never have I seen a more delectable sketching ground. . . . I regretted leaving the coast, and I long to return."
The Hoh-Hok watercolour image was the basis for a wood engraving featured in Phillips' 1930 portfolio, published as An Essay in Woodcuts.
Phillips, born in Britain in 1884 and an immigrant to Canada in 1913, helped build the visual arts program at the Banff School of Fine Arts, where the Walter Phillips Gallery honours his contributions.
Phillips died in Victoria in 1963.
Extracted from the Montreal Gazette. Please click here to be taken to the source.
See Also: May 11, 2010 'Portrait of the Visual Arts'.
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