BlogApril 1, 2009

State of the Canadian Art Market in 2009

"Business is blooming against all odds in the art market when the rest of the world economy shrinks."


Souren Melikian, in The International Herald Tribune of March 20 2009, reported on the 239 art dealer supported Maastricht art fair, one which focuses primarily on Old Master pictures ... ''Business is blooming against all odds in the art market when the rest of the world economy shrinks. As the 22nd European Fine Art Fair, which closes on Sunday, opened its doors to the private viewing on March 12, the rush of hundreds of well-heeled prospective buyers to get in first was as feverish as ever. Transactions were concluded there and then at prices that would not have been higher the previous year. .... Maastricht could have been on another planet where no one had heard of the subprime crisis."


The Canadian art business has been a bit quieter than normal for this time of year for the most part because of the small number of fine and important Canadian paintings being offered. There has been a relentless amount of marvelous people coming some of whom are making astute purchase decisions to buy the really super Canadian paintings! Whereas there are some who simply do not have the means right now, and those who are not in the mood, there is also a significant community, which is sitting on the sidelines in anticipation of opportunities to make shrewd purchases of important and fine Canadian paintings just down the road.


In the Canadian art market, insofar as our public indicators of the strength of the art market are hosted only every 6 months, November and then May, assuming that the Canadian experience for buying important Canadian works of art will be similar to those recently of London, Paris, New York and Maastricht, the shrewd Canadian art collectors waiting to pounce on the rare and important Canadian paintings to come to the market in May, will ultimately be obliged to pay substantial prices for ownership of the most precious trophies, the similar experience we are having, albeit discretely, in our art gallery, with the very best of Canadian art.


(However if we see an over supply of important Canadian paintings in the market over the short Canadian art market auction season, results could be disappointing. If you elect to consign to an auctioneer for sale, get a financial guarantee to be best assured that he will work aggressively to achieve the sale of your painting. Remember that you are betting on a predetermined moment at a date several months forward. If you chose to sell at auction and are really unlucky there will be offerings even in the same sale of a work or two by the same artist that is/are better than yours!!)


At this very moment, with the dearth of top quality Canadian art available in the market, at this very time, I mean the months of February, March and April, paradoxically to what you what might have otherwise thought in this economy--it has been a seller's market. If you have a great work you are considering selling don't wait until May when the supply side is flooded with auction catalogues filled with several hundreds of works of art to compete with yours. For those of us with outstanding works of Canadian art to sell, the summer should compensate handsomely for the mid winter lull. If you have a truly outstanding Canadian painting to sell we encourage you to visit us for a confidential consultation without delay.


What should you buy these days?

“The veteran dealer Richard Feigen advises against investing in artworks—that is, unless you’re considering the pieces that have been around the longest.” (Art and Auction February 2009 page 63)


"Beyond the Bubbles“ published on "The Opinion" page of February’s edition of Art and Auction, an informative magazine owned by former Montrealer, Louise Blouin, is authored by Richard Feigen, a most distinguished and senior U S based art dealer. (Just so you do not think that this is coming from a gentleman art dealer who sells only Old Master paintings, which among other fine art work he does in fact sell, you should check his web site which reads. "Richard L Feigen inaugurated his first gallery in Chicago in 1957, exhibiting 20th Century masterworks of German Expressionist and surrealist art. He was also an early champion of such artists as Francis Bacon, Jean Dubuffet, Joseph Cornell, Claes Oldenburg, James Rosenquist and Ray Johnson whose estate the firm now exclusively represents.”)


Feigen writes, “Amid the carnage of the current economy, I am often asked about the stability of the art market. Right now, I contend that there is no safer investment. Important Old Masters paintings, of which the supply is small and shrinking, are the biggest bargains across the whole investment spectrum. Interestingly, Jeff Koons, the master alchemist, is buying Old Masters, turning dross into gold. Intense competition and high prices in the December sales in London may imply a flight from volatile investments to Old Masters. ... The quality and significance of certain Old Masters is no mystery for those with eyes. Condition and authenticity are obvious to specialists, who are on call. Museums proliferate; demand must rise.”


I do genuinely believe that one could make a similar analogy to promote the underlying value of purchasing Old Masters of the Canadian art market. I don’t mind emphasizing the quality and extraordinary value in the 19th and early 20th Century Canadian artists, names which are already familiar to you like Cornelius Krieghoff, Antoine Plamondon, Theophile Hamel and Paul Kane, William Raphael, early F.A. Verner, Paul Peel too if you can find excellent examples and ones fine condition. Yes, obviously you should buy important paintings by Ozias Leduc, J.W. Morrice, Suzor-Coté, Clarence Gagnon, Emily Carr and from among the Group of Seven, the Beaver Hall Hill Group of artists, David Milne, Albert Robinson, Robert Pilot, G Horne Russell, M.A. Fortin, John Lyman, Jean-Paul Lemieux and others.


Can you imagine how rare will be the opportunities going forward to buy a perfect Krieghoff more than 160 years after Krieghoff painted it! Look at our ''Ste Anne River, Early Winter”, circa 1863, a magnificent composition, fresh in colour, in pristine condition, only cleaned since Cornelius Krieghoff painted it and with a sister picture hanging in the Art Gallery of Ontario, among the generous bequest of the Estate of the late Kenneth Thomson and his family. The cost in today's market is less than many pay for an outstanding watercolour by Franklin Carmichael! Remember Mr. Feigen's observation "The quality and significance of certain Old Masters is no mystery for those with eyes. Condition and authenticity are obvious to specialists, who are on call. Museums proliferate; demand must rise.”


Also especially noteworthy and available now from Galerie Walter Klinkhoff our M.A. Fortin "Sunday at St. Helen's Island”, the iconic Maurice Cullen of "Winter Afternoon, North River" and the most handsome 1911 New York period Milne "Blossoming Tree“, G Horne Russell's "Afterglow, St Andrews, New Brunswick " would make the centre-pieces of any collection of important Canadian paintings. Although more modest in scale, but equally exquisite is John Lyman's "Negress”, likely a preliminary study of the larger Lyman nudes in the MNBA du Quebec and the Mendel Art Gallery and implies his familiarity and admiration of J.W. Morrice's female figure, studies like the "Algerian Negress " (one of the brilliant Morrices in the Thomson bequest now at the AGO). 

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