Montreal school board's artworks to fetch up to $1.8M

A trove of Canadian art belonging to a Montreal school board is expected to sell for up to $1.8 million at auction this spring.

Heffel Fine Art Auction House revealed on Tuesday some details of the more than 30 artworks from the English Montreal School Board set for its spring sale in Vancouver on May 15.

The school board's collection spans work by artists like Group of Seven member A.Y. Jackson, landscape artist Maurice Cullen and his artist stepson Robert Pilot, as well as Anne Savage.

A well-regarded painter and a Montreal high school art teacher, Savage helped augment the collection for the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal (PSBGM) during the 1960s.

Beginning the 1930s, it was common for parents, alumni and artists themselves to recognize schools with gifts of art, according to the PSBGM Cultural Heritage Foundation, a non-profit group entrusted with care of the collection. As the artworks gained value over the years, however, so did the cost of insuring them.

"With virtually no acquisitions costs, these donations have appreciated exponentially over time and will now be translated into an important win for our children and for our community," foundation curator Angelo Komatsoulis said in a statement.

The pieces being handled by Heffel are estimated to sell for between $1.3 million and $1.8 million. Notable lots headed for the auction block include:

A Quebec Village/Winter, St-Fidèle by A.Y. Jackson, estimated to sell for $500,000-$700,000.

Large murals by Robert Pilot, such as Early Explorers and Indian Fur Traders, as well as his work Corner of Sherbrooke and Peel Streets. Each is expected to sell for $100,000-$150,000.

Northern Lake/Trees in the Wind (verso) by Anne Savage, estimated to sell for $70,000-$90,000.

North River Near Ste-Margarets by Maurice Cullen, estimated to sell for $10,000-$15,000.

The sales proceeds from the school board's art will fund post-secondary scholarships for graduates.

In December, news of the sale sparked controversy in Montreal, with some critics opposing the decision to auction a portion of the collection.

"To simply scatter it to the four winds...is a scandal, frankly," school board commissioner Julien Feldman said at the time.

Similar decisions to sell donated artwork have sparked legal battles in the U.S.; for instance cash-strapped Fisk University's attempt to generate funds by selling a stake in its collection of art donated by Georgia O'Keeffe.

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