Alberta Art Gallery’s upcoming exhibit buoyed by record-breaking Canadian art sale

The Art Gallery of Alberta says the record-breaking sale of a Canadian painting last month is building quite a buzz around Canadian art and history just as the gallery gets set to unveil a new exhibit featuring some of the country’s most celebrated landscape artists.

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    “It’s one of the exhibitions we’re putting on to celebrate the sesquicentennial, the 150th anniversary of confederation,” Catherine Crowston, executive director of the AGA, said Thursday. “It’s really a celebration of Canada through the seasons and across the country.”

    The coming exhibit, set to open to the public on Saturday, is buoyed by the fact it will feature a painting by Lawren Harris – “Athabasca Valley, Jasper Park.” That’s because the art world is abuzz with the Nov. 23 sale of Harris’ “Mountain Forms” piece, which broke a new barrier for the most expensive Canadian artwork ever sold when it was snapped up for a cool $9.5 million, $11.2 million when you factor in the purchaser had to pay an 18 per cent buyer’s premium, an auction house fee.

    READ MORE: Lawren Harris painting ‘Mountain Forms’ smashes Canadian art record at auction

    Watch below: The Lawren Harris painting “Mountain Forms” set a new Canadian record for most expensive art piece when it was sold at an auction in Toronto on Nov. 23, 2016.

    “When something like that happens… I think people stop and look and maybe think more about, ‘Look at these paintings and how can they be of such value and what were the artists thinking about when the created them?’” Crowston said.

    “It actually makes people stop and think Canadian art has value.”

    The Ontario-born Harris, who passed away in 1970, was part of the venerated Group of Seven, an iconic group of Canadian landscape painters known for their prolific artwork in the 1920s and early part of the 1930s. According to Crowston, the work done by Harris and the Group of Seven represents more than just beautiful artwork but also helped to define the story of Canada.

    READ MORE: Rare Lawren Harris oil sketch sets record at auction in Toronto

    “Artists like Lawren Harris, the Group of Seven and many of the artists in this exhibition, help us really to form what our idea of Canada really is,” she said. “You get kind of a breadth of the different types of landscapes across Canada.”

    Crowston points out that the Group of Seven, and Harris in particular, was captivated by Alberta’s mountains which feature heavily in the AGA’s upcoming exhibition.

    While it remains to be seen whether Harris’ record-breaking sale is an anomaly or the beginning of a curiosity for all things Canadian in the art collection world, Crowston says she hopes it serves as a catalyst for the country’s creative class to build a wider audience for its work.

    READ MORE: 3 Lawren Harris paintings fetch over $3 million at auction in Vancouver

    “Wonderful Canadian artists like Lawren Harris are breaking into the U.S. market and hopefully that’s something where we might build bridges with U.S. museums and have Canadian art spread around the world.”

    -with files from Fletcher Kent.

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