By Dorota Kozinska

"Mountain Forms", Harris's stunning image of Mount Ishbel in the Sawback Range in the Rocky Mountains, just sold for record $11.2 million at Heffel Fine Arts Auction House in Toronto.

It is now the most expensive work by a Canadian artist ever sold at auction. The auction was carried mostly by phone bidders but ultimately the 1926 painting went to an anonymous paddle-waver while a packed room gasped audibly.

It was one quick drop of the hammer, according to David Heffel, the auctioneer and Heffel president, “and one giant leap for the Canadian art market.”

Odd as it may sound, this spectacular sale was largely due to the mercurial comedian, who admitted frankly that he had no idea of the value of the work that caught his eye back in the 90s.

While looking through an auction catalogue, Martin was taken by Harris' 'non-European way' of painting, decided to do some research, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The discovery led to an exhibition, 'The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris" organized by the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles in collaboration with the Art Gallery of Ontario. Steve Martin co-curated the show, which run at the museum till January 24, 2016.

"Mountain Forms" was the key piece in that exhibition, an imposing 152 x 178 centimetre oil-on-canvas, and when it came to its auctioning, it was hoped to fetch $10-million. Not!


Heffel was tight-lipped on the identity of the buyer, in line with the auction house’s strict confidentiality policy. He would only say that the prized piece had found “a great new home by a passionate, dedicated and sincere collector,” and expressed confidence that the public would have the chance in future to revisit the work.

Originally titled Mountain Form, the record-smashing painting was shown in the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts exhibition in Montreal in 1927. It then toured six American cities in 1930, when it was part of the Paintings by Contemporary Canadian Artists exhibition organized by the American Federation of Arts.

Calgary-based Imperial Oil Ltd., which acquired Mountain Forms in 1984, was the seller at the Heffel auction.