April 20, 2009

Tom Thomson painting fetches only $350,000

ART HISTORY/CANADA - A small Tom Thomson painting sold for much less than expected Sunday after an unusual auction that saw the buyer storm out of the room before eventually being allowed to buy the piece.

The painting, a muted portrayal of a lake at dawn near Algonquin Park in Ontario, was expected to sell for between $500,000 and $600,000.

"I hadn't really planned on showing up, I hadn't really planned on being here. I didn't think I was going to own that painting," said new owner Tom Budd, a retired Calgary investment banker who said he came on a whim after an afternoon of racing sports cars.

Despite interest from across the country, when the piece, called Dawn on Round Lake, was first raised at the front of the Calgary auction, the bids did not fly.

Only Budd raised his hand, bidding $350,000.

Doug Levis of Levis Fire Art Auctions & Appraisals tried to ramp that bid higher, but when it was revealed the painting could not sell for a price less than $400,000, Budd objected that his lower bid was accepted in the first place.

(Note: For those that don't know, auctioneers get a percentage of the sale price, so the auctioneer in this case was likely just being greedy.)

After a few minutes of arguing that several art collectors called "shocking" and "unprecedented," the painting was declared unsold and Budd marched out of the room.

"You've got to encourage the bidding somehow to get to your minimum bid or whatever you're going to sell it for," said one man after the outburst. "That's how auctions work."

A brief meeting between Budd and Levis, and a phone call to the elderly woman whose family has owned the painting for 94 years, resulted in a deal.

"I am pleased to announce the painting did sell. It sold for $350,000," said Levis. "I talked to the client and she agreed she would sell it at those kind of numbers."

Budd only had kind words for the outcome saying: "I've met a lot of people in business, and I would put the owners of this company at the forefront of ethics and morals when it come to tough situations."

The elderly woman, brought the painting to Calgary by bus, the wood panel wrapped in a towel. She's a relative of the painting's original owner, Dr. Robert McComb, who accompanied Thomson on the hunting trip in northern Ontario where it was painted in November 1915.

Thomson was one of the first painters to focus on the Canadian landscape, favouring Algonquin Park with a style that would heavily influence the work of the Group of Seven painters and Emily Carr.

In 1917, at age 39, Thomson drowned under mysterious circumstances in the area, leaving behind more than 300 sketches and only about 50 paintings.

Budd admitted he only began reading about Thomson and the Group of Seven a few weeks ago, but said he was quickly drawn in to the story. "It was the artist, not the painting," he said of his decision to buy the piece.

While he has collected some art - he bought one other piece at the auction before he realized he'd be taking the Thomson home - he said this will be the first painting of such a calibre.

"I'm probably the least knowledgeable person in this room on art. But I'm a quick learner."

Other Thomson paintings have sold for between $300,000 and $1.7 million. (Although to get millions Sotheby's would be a better choice as auctioneer.)

Some had hoped the painting would be sold to a public gallery rather back into private hands. Budd said that wish would likely come true, noting the monetary value of the piece wasn't the issue for him.

"I didn't buy the painting to make money, I don't really need to make money. I've been giving money away," he said. "This painting will end up being donated to somebody at some point."

See Also:
Canadian Art History

1 comment:

  1. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



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