Posted by & filed under Cowley Abbott Updates.

If you are new to art collecting, browsing online auctions is a great place to start. At the click of a button, you may find yourself the proud owner of an artwork by a reputable artist. 

John Hoyland
Blues, Reds
Estimate: $800 – 1,000

Buy at Auction versus at a Gallery

Galleries are the primary (retail) market for buying art. Gallery owners spend a lot of time and money choosing which artists they want to represent and building a strong clientele base and marking strategy. Galleries can also set their own prices, since the artwork is usually being sold for the first time. Auctions are the secondary market for buying art, which means that the prices fluctuate according to supply & demand, design trends, and therefore what a buyer is willing to pay. This often means that an artwork at auction will sell for less than at a gallery, because the buyer pays the market price rather than the retail price.

In recent years, buying art at auction has become incredibly accessible, with online sales being offered every month at auction houses worldwide. Whether you are looking for a contemporary artist specifically or a work by a more obscure artist, do some searching and have a little patience, because chances are it will be come up at auction somewhere! According to The Art Market Report 2023, “online bidding has evolved from a minority alternative to the dominant method of accessing sales.”

Choose a Work and Gather Information

Once you discover an artist you enjoy, learn as much as possible about their practice and what type of artwork most appeals to you. A great source of information is Artnet and Artsy, which offer detailed information about artists, artworks and auctions. By doing further research, you will better understand both the artist’s trajectory and why an artwork is being offered at a certain value. However, it is also fun to browse online auction listings by categories that interest you (ex. “Prints & Multiples“, “The Canadian Landscape“, “Art of Quebec“) and discovering new artworks and artists you were not expecting!

Viewing an artwork in person may not always be possible with online auctions, which is why we suggest requesting a condition report before bidding on a lot. A key aspect that collectors should keep in mind is the condition, since artworks at auction are sold “as is.” While a certain amount of wear and tear is to be expected from an older artwork, you should be (and can be) made fully aware of any past restoration or restoration that needs to be done. For example, a 70-year-old watercolour may have a few creases in the paper and some tiny spots of staining, causing it to be priced lower than if it were in perfect condition. A condition report will enable you to learn about these issues and decide if they affect if or how high you bid on the artwork. Cowley Abbott specialists are also happy to discuss the reports with you on the phone, to help you feel confident in the bidding process.

Become More Familiar with Buyer’s Terms

Whenever you buy online from an auction house, there are a few key terms to always keep in mind:


Each lot receives a low and high estimate, corresponding to the opinion of experts about the range in which the lot might sell at auction. Estimates are based on the condition and on recent auction records of comparable artworks. It usually serves as the basis for establishing the reserve price.


This is the minimum price that a consignor and an auction house have agreed upon to sell an artwork. Reserves are usually set at or below the low estimate. During Cowley Abbott’s online auctions, the reserve price will be the opening bid, shown as “Next Bid” below the auction estimate.

Maximum Bid

When bidding on a lot, you may choose to place a maximum bid representing the highest amount you are willing to pay for an item. The system will then place incremental bids on your behalf based on the bid increments until your maximum bid has been reached. This is so you don’t have to stand by your computer the whole afternoon while the bidding is unfolding, making sure you don’t miss anything (although many bidders prefer this way!)

Hammer Price

This is the winning bid for a lot at auction, which does not include the buyer’s premium.

Buyer’s Premium

This is the amount above the hammer price that must be paid as part of the total purchase price. All auction houses add a percentage on top of the hammer price. At Cowley Abbott, the buyer’s premium is 20% for online sales.

As Is

Property sold at auction is offered “as is,” meaning it is sold with all existing imperfections and faults.

Posted by & filed under Cowley Abbott Updates.

We are excited to be offering three prints by master printmaker Stanley William Hayter (1901–1988) in our September Prints & Multiples online auction. Hayter studied chemistry and geology in England and worked for several years as a research scientist in the Middle East. He painted during his free time and, in 1926, moved to Paris to become a full-time artist. The following year he established Atelier 17, a printmaking workshop where artists such as Max Ernst, Joan Miró and Pablo Picasso could experiment with different techniques and media. In 1940, Hayter moved his studio to New York, where he would operate for nearly a decade before returning to France. 

There, he attracted not only European painters and printmakers taking refuge from the war, particularly those affiliated with Surrealism, but also young American artists interested in the ideas these exiles brought with them. The exposure to the European artists and Hayter’s teaching had an enormous impact on American artists, many of whom were affiliated with the New York School, and greatly affected the future of printmaking in the United States. Jackson Pollock was influenced by Hayter in New York, particularly by his emphasis on automatism and reliance on the unconscious. The Atelier helped shape the early years of Abstract Expressionism and became one of the most influential graphic arts workshops of the twentieth century.

Lot 17
Stanley William Hayter
Le chas de l’aiguille, 1946
Estimate: $800 – 1,000

This beautiful etching Chas de l’aiguille has a controlled and sinuous arrangement of thin lines. The free-flowing lines appear to be spontaneously drawn, recalling the automatism that inspired Surrealism. The etching is nearly abstract, with female anatomical features emerging from the tangled lines. Chas de l’aiguille, which translates to “Eye of the needle,” is particularly remarkable and rare because it dates to 1946—making it one of Hayter’s earliest prints executed post-war while living in New York.

Lot 18
Stanley William Hayter
Day & Night, 1952
Estimate: $1,500 – 2,500

Day and Night is a beautiful colour aquatint with etching by Hayter dating to 1952. At this time, Hayter would have been back in France while keeping ties with his American students and contemporaries in New York as Abstract Expressionism was exploding on the art scene. This print, with very loose references to human features, shows the artist’s transition from Surrealism to Abstract Expressionism and from figuration to abstraction. 

Lot 16
Stanley William Hayter
Sealed Web, 1968
Estimate: $1,500 – 2,500

The third print by Hayter in this month’s auction is another colour aquatint with etching entitled Sealed Web. Entirely abstract with no reference to figuration and executed in a bright yet simplified colour palette of orange and blue, the work is a product of its time, dating to 1968. By this point, Abstract Expressionism had peaked and branched out into other abstract movements, including Color-Field painting, characterized by large areas of bright colours. The vibrations created by the layered web of lines also bear similarities to Op Art—a movement that emerged in the mid-1960s and focused on creating optical illusions for the viewer. 

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The celebrated Pop artist David Hockney took the art world by storm in the 1960s and 1970s with his sun-drenched series of poolside modernist homes, capturing his newfound Californian lifestyle. He continues to stay relevant today by adapting to new technological advancements, from Polaroid cameras to iPads.

His works regularly break auction records, most recently with poolside drawings selling for over 2 million USD at Sotheby’s and Christie’s, respectively. During our Spring Live Auction of Important Canadian and International Art, his ink drawing Nehemiah Checking the Walls of Jerusalem not only drew an intense bidding war, but it sold for $102,000, well above its pre-sale estimate of $12,000 to $16,000.

In our upcoming online auction of Prints & Multiples, opening on August 29th, we will be offering two prints by the British artist. Initially published in 1970, Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm with Illustrations by David Hockney revisits the Grimm tales through whimsical black-and-white etchings, including The Little Hare, Rapunzel and Rumpelstiltskin.

“They’re fascinating, the little stories, told in a very very simple, direct, straightforward language and style; it was this simplicity that attracted me. They cover quite a strange range of experience, from the magical to the moral,” described Hockney in his 1976 autobiography.

His suite of thirty-nine etchings took nearly a year to complete, using a cross-hatching method to create variations in tone and texture. Hockney wanted to create a spontaneous effect by drawing the forms quickly to work out the style and the references to the period.

The Enchantress with the Baby Rapunzel

For Rapunzel, Hockney draws on art historical sources, with the face made deliberately ugly and the pose based on Hieronymus Bosch’s The Adoration of the Magi (ca. 1475), while the copse of trees in the background is reminiscent of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Annunciation (ca. 1472). He also drew inspiration from Vittore Carpaccio and Paolo Uccello for the costumes.

Hockney took liberties with the source material, however, referring to the old lady not as a witch but as an enchantress since “an enchantress is less wicked, really, and after all this woman in the story doesn’t keep the child; she’s quite kind about it.”

Corpses on Fire

This second print comes from The Boy Who Left Home to Learn Fear, which Hockney believed to be “such a strange Gothic story; I’d no idea how to illustrate it. I only knew I wanted to do it.” Here he depicted two corpses on fire with moon-like faces. The figures stare blankly forward as their hazy bodies become engulfed by flames.

According to the German folktale, a young, naive boy slept beneath the gallows one night, where there were still seven hanged men, because he wanted to learn how to shudder. He built a fire to stay warm, and upon seeing the bodies sway in the wind, he realized they must be cold. He decided to cut the bodies down and placed them by the flames, but they did not stir when their clothing caught on fire. Annoyed at their reckless behaviour, the young, careless boy re-hung them on the gallows before travelling on.

Hockney’s series of etchings were ultimately proofed by Maurice Payne, printed by Piet Clement on Hodgkinson handmade paper and published by Petersburg Press in London and New York. A miniature book was published by Oxford University Press, selling over 150,000 copies.

With the fall 2023 auction season fast approaching, Cowley Abbott is seeking consignments of international art for our upcoming online and live sales.

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In the past few decades, Japanese artists have taken the contemporary art world by storm, presenting bold and inventive works that embody Japan’s rich cultural history. They challenge Western traditions and push the boundaries of contemporary art, like Yayoi Kusama and Yoshitomo Nara, whose revolutionary works have attracted international acclaim and commercial success.

Photo by Rahil Chadha on Unsplash

Born in 1929 in Matsumoto, Yayoi Kusama is one of the most successful living female artists, best known for her signature polka dots and mirrored infinity rooms. Her style relies on repetitive patterns and vibrant colours and is influenced by Conceptual Art, Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism. She left Japan for New York in 1957, and by 1962, she was exhibiting at the Green Gallery alongside well-established avant-garde artists such as Claes Oldenburg, James Rosenquist and Andy Warhol. 

In 1946, the pumpkin first appeared in Kusama’s work when she exhibited in a travelling show in Nagano and Matsumoto, Japan. From then on, she began incorporating pumpkins in her dot-motif paintings, drawings and prints. For instance, a giant black and yellow polka-dotted pumpkin has stood at the end of a pier on Naoshima Island since 1994. It was the first of many examples of public art that Kusama began to display in Japan, France, the United States and Korea.

Kusama explained in a 2015 interview: “I love pumpkins because of their humorous form, warm feeling, and a human-like quality and form. My desire to create works of pumpkins still continues. I have enthusiasm as if I were still a child.”

Lot 228. Yayoi Kusama, Pumpkin (Red & Yellow)
Estimate: $2,000 – 3,000

Another pioneering figure in contemporary art is Yoshitomo Nara, whose work is influenced by childhood memories, popular music and current events. Born in 1959 in Hirosaki, Nara became fascinated with Neo-Expressionism and punk rock while studying at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in Germany. He first gained recognition in the 1990s during Japan’s Pop Art movement. By 2001, he had become associated with the avant-garde group of Japanese artists known as Superflat, who used bright colours, patterns and cartoon motifs to challenge Japan’s hyper-consumerist culture. The group also included Takashi Murakami and Chiho Aoshima. 

Nara is renowned for his works featuring young children appearing simultaneously innocent and enigmatic. His distinct style is introspective, exploring a wide range of feelings, from joy to loneliness to rebellion. Nara adopts a muted colour palette and minimalist approach to present simple subjects whose oversized features reveal complex emotions. 

His characters often brandish weapons, like knives or scissors, as shown in this lithograph. Nara once commented on this recurring motif, saying: “Look at them, they are so small, like toys. Do you think they could fight with those? I don’t think so. Rather, I kind of see the children among other, bigger, bad people all around them, who are holding bigger knives.”

Lot 229. Yoshitomo Nara, Suite of Three Colour Lithographs
Estimate: $2,500 – 4,000

Born in Osaka in 1974, MADSAKI is a Jersey-raised contemporary painter who graduated in 1996 from Parsons School of Design in New York before starting to exhibit at galleries in Tokyo, Seoul, Los Angeles and New York. He would eventually return to Japan, becoming one of the most influential Japanese artists after Takashi Murakami invited him to exhibit at Hidari Zingaro in 2016.

Being Japanese-American, MADSAKI straddles two cultural identities often at odds with each other. Despite being a member of the Western art world, he playfully criticizes the canon and believes there should be no distinction between high and low art. He draws inspiration for his acrylic and aerosol paintings from an eclectic mix of sources: Old Masters, popular advertisements and films. 

His instantly recognizable subject matter is full of childlike energy and emotions. “Specifically, I am interested in how experience enters memory, and once there, how it’s flattened into a two-dimensional image. Memory makes images feel simultaneously very close and very far,” described the artist in a 2021 interview with L’Officiel Saint Barth.

Lot 230. MADSAKI, Masters of the Universe Power Sword. Estimate: $1,000 – 1,500

The June Online Auction will close on Tuesday, June 27, starting at 2 pm EDT.

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In the years following the end of World War II, several major art movements emerged in the United States. Abstract Expressionism began in the 1940s and was the first specifically American movement to achieve international influence and put New York at the centre of the Western art world, a role formerly filled by Paris. Developing out of Abstract Expressionism came Color-Field painting, but also other movements that were anti-abstraction, such as Pop Art and Conceptual Art. The June Online Auction of Modern & Contemporary Art features some excellent examples of these various movements and their connections with each other. 

Josef Albers was a famous German-American abstract artist and colour theorist. He studied and taught at the Bauhaus school in the 1920s, then moved to the United States after the Nazi regime closed the school in 1933. He first taught painting at Black Mountain College in North Carolina and later became the head of the design program at Yale University. In 1963, he published a very influential book, Interaction of Color, about studying and teaching colour through experience. Albers was instrumental in bringing the tenets of European modernism, particularly those associated with the Bauhaus, to America. His legacy as an artist, teacher and colour theorist profoundly influenced the development of modern art in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s.

Albers is best known for his iconic coloured square paintings and prints, also known as his Homage to the Square series. Albers explored chromatic interactions with nested squares in this rigorous series, which he started in 1949. Each painting and print consist of three or four squares of solid planes of color nested within one another, and in a square format. Lot 201 is part of a series printed in Paris, so it has a French title: Hommage au carré. Albers signed and dated it 1964, however, it was only published in 1965.

Josef Albers

Robert Motherwell was an American abstract expressionist artist and one of the youngest of the New York School, which included painters such as Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko. Trained in philosophy, Motherwell was regarded as among the most articulate spokesmen for abstract art, and his paintings and prints often touched on political, philosophical and literary themes. 

Many people do not know that Motherwell is also known for his work in printmaking. Lot 243, Harvest, with Orange Stripe, is part of his Summer Light Series from the 1970s. This major series, in collaboration with Gemini studio in L.A., allowed him to reintroduce collage into his printing practice. Motherwell continued the Cubist tradition of incorporating everyday materials into collages, such as newspapers, or in this instance, cigarette labels.

Tom Wesselmann was a key figure in the development of the American Pop Art movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Pop Art emerged as a revolt against the elitism of museums and abstract art of the time. Instead, artists purposely chose subjects found in everyday life that have mass appeal: Hollywood films, advertising, pop music and comic books. In Lot 222, Still Life with Lilies and Mixed Fruit, Wesselmann has contrasted the traditional still life subject matter with a flat, colourful and cartoonish design that is quintessential to Pop Art.

Another art movement that emerged in opposition to abstraction was Conceptual Art. California-based artist John Baldessari started as a semi-abstract painter in the 1950s but grew so disenchanted with his own handiwork, that in 1970 he decided to take his paintings to a San Diego funeral home and cremate them. From then on, he explored a wide range of media, often combining images and the associative power of language and never taking himself too seriously. Lot 244, The First $100,000 I Ever Made, is a prime example of his humorous approach, with the title serving as a double entendre. The work stems from Baldessari’s billboard of a gigantic representation of a $100,000 bill, which he displayed next to the High Line in New York City in December 2011.

The June Online Auction will close on Tuesday, June 27, starting at 2 pm EDT.

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As the head of the International Art department, I first saw the set of four Queen Elizabeth II’s by Andy Warhol unwrapped and hung side by side in Montreal as we set up for our preview in April. They commanded the room. They were all framed similarly, each featuring the same image of Queen Elizabeth II but realized with different lines and bold blocks of bright colours.

Perry Tung at Le Mount Stephen in Montreal.

When they arrived at our Toronto galleries after our preview in Montreal, we decided to install them as they appear in the catalogue raisonné. Again, hung on a main wall, they drew the eye of every visitor as they entered our galleries. After all, the works had captured the public’s imagination as soon as the press release was sent out, where we revealed what would be offered in our first live session of International art.

When dealing with an artist such as Warhol, one of the most celebrated figures in modern art, and this iconic portrait of the Queen, we expected to receive a frenzy of inquiries, further image requests and multiple condition report requests. We did, and then some. Collectors’ interest in these works, both in Canada and abroad, never lagged as we led up to the evening of our Spring Live Auction on June 8th

The works on display at our gallery in Toronto.

With bidders in place in the room, on the phone and online, the bidding started slowly before gradually picking up the pace. We are pleased to report that the set of four Queen’s realized a price of $936,000 (including buyer’s premium).

Cowley Abbott is delighted to donate the proceeds to the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG-Qaumajuq) as they build an endowment fund to support more diverse representation in the permanent collection, beginning with contemporary Indigenous art. 

The next day, the successful bidder on the Warhol’s contacted me. I had discussed the works with him in the early stages, following the press release and the catalogue becoming available. He was delighted with the sale’s result and is pleased to be revealed as the successful bidder. Ron Rivlin is the founder of the Revolver Gallery in West Hollywood, California, and the author of WARHOL LIVES: 2022 Print Market Report

He had this to say about his purchase: “As an art collector, and as a Canadian, I am happy to have contributed to Winnipeg Art Gallery with their sale of the Warhol’s. These prints will make a fantastic addition to our collection, and it is so exciting for me to see the art market continue to grow in Canada.”

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Cowley Abbott’s live auction on June 8th marked the second of three landmark live auctions dedicated to a prestigious private collection of Canadian art. A selection of exceptional historical artworks offered in the evening auction saw a bidding frenzy, with most artworks in the sale exceeding – and often doubling, tripling or more – presale estimates. Three masterworks achieved over and above the million-dollar mark, including works by celebrated artists Tom Thomson, Emily Carr and Lawren Harris.

Cowley Abbott’s two-session live auction event realized incredible results, featuring artworks by international artists Andy Warhol, David Hockney and Joan Mitchell. Nine new auction records were attained for Canadian artists, cementing the sale as a tremendous evening for Canadian art.

Following our record breaking results this season, Cowley Abbott is now accepting consignments for our fall auction, including our major Fall Live Auction at The Globe & Mail Centre on December 6th. Please contact our experienced team of specialists for a complimentary and confidential art valuation.

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Tonight! 🎉 It is finally time for our two-session Live Auction of Important Canadian and International Art!

The Cowley Abbott team could not be more excited to present these artworks for sale this evening @globeandmailcentre. It has been a privilege to handle these works of art and share them with collectors, clients and art lovers.

Join us tonight in-person at Toronto’s Globe & Mail Centre or livestream the two auction sessions from home.

🔴 Live Auction of Important Canadian and International Art (Session 1) at 4:00 pm EST

🔴 Live Auction of An Important Private Collection of Canadian Art – Part II (Session 2) at 7:00 pm EST.

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Beginning as an Automatiste painter in the 1950s, Rita Letendre was influenced by Paul-Émile Borduas’ revolutionary gestural abstract paintings of the period. Although the Automatistes were instrumental in the evolution of her style, Letendre developed a singular vision in her body of work that resulted in a unique style that pushed boundaries of colour, light and space. After being exposed to the major figures of the Plasticiens movement in the mid-1950s, Letendre began experimenting with more structured and geometric compositions. However, by the end of the decade, she returned to a gestural approach, inspired by the Abstract Expressionists in New York‒particularly the black and white paintings of Franz Kline. Her production began to increase, winning first prize in the Concours de la Jeune Peinture in 1959 and the Prix Rodolphe-de-Repentigny in 1960. This prize and the additional sales that followed would allow Letendre to dedicate herself to painting full-time. Always experimenting, she worked in all media while regarding representation in art as “a crutch”.

Rita Letendre Rencontre enflammée

“Rencontre enflammée”, dating to 1962, was completed during this pivotal period of growth in Letendre’s career. As she became better equipped with painting materials and more time to work, she began creating larger canvases with explosions of colour. Letendre had recently won second prize in the painting category in the 1961 Concours artistiques du Québec. Her compositions grew to be very personal and carefully planned, and she began anchoring masses with carefully visualized gestures, amid fields of thick impasto. Dramatic and evocative, Rencontre enflammée is composed of three vertically stacked black organic forms with small, loose strokes of blue and white painted over them. Behind these black masses is a striking ground of yellow and red thrashes that are reminiscent of flames, recalling Letendre’s title which translates to “fiery encounter”. On her use of colour and light, the artist claimed: “Light and colour, and sometimes the absence of colour, have always been the key elements in my painting. With its different values, colour reflects the shades of life. But light, from the first shock of birth to the last breath of life‒light is life.” In this canvas, Letendre plays with this relationship between light, colour and the absence of colour: the three black forms create haunting voids that are encompassed by the mesmerizing light of flames.

Although the title Letendre chose for “Rencontre enflammée” makes reference to a representational subject, her paintings of this time were very much still based in Automatism rather than on a particular subject. She stated, “My thoughts, my attitudes are automatist, which means that I have no set formula. My paintings are completely emotional, full of hair-trigger intensity. Through them, I challenge space and time. I paint freedom, escape from the here and now, from the mundane…The world isn’t only what we see or what we experience.”

The 1960s was a decade of well-deserved recognition for Letendre’s work, beginning with a solo exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1961. In 1962, when “Rencontre enflammée” was completed, Letendre received a Canada Council Grant, and travelled with Ulysse Comtois to Europe, visiting Paris, Rome and then Israel.

As the Automatiste group and its affiliates began to abandon their commitment to spontaneity in favour of a more controlled and deliberate structure, Letendre chose to maintain the impulsive and expressive brushstrokes in her work. Letendre kept a fairly consistent palette of dramatic colours, often with large masses of black, until the mid-1960s when she took a decisive shift into geometric compositions once again.