Colin McCahon's The Canoe Tainui sets record with $1,350,000 sale price

By Sarah Harris

Colin McCahon's painting The Canoe Tainui has set the record for the most expensive painting sold at auction in New Zealand with a sale price of $1,350,000.

The painting was sold tonight at the first of two auctions consisting of 481 works from the late Tim and Sherrah Francis collection at Auckland's Art+Object.

Art auctioneer Ben Plumbly introduced the "magnificent" 4.8m painting with a starting bid from the vendor at $800,000. It came onto the market and sold at $1,350,000.

Art auctioneer Ben Plumbly looks for bids on the Colin McCahon piece 'The Canoe Tainui'. The sale price was a record $1,350,000. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Art auctioneer Ben Plumbly looks for bids on the Colin McCahon piece 'The Canoe Tainui'. The sale price was a record $1,350,000. Photo / Jason Oxenham

"This may well be the most important painting to come on the auction market perhaps ever."

"Isn't it fantastic Colin McCahon will hold that record."

Previously the most expensive painting sold at auction in New Zealand is Charles Frederick Goldie's A Noble Relic of a Noble Race. That went for a total price, including buyer's premium and fees, of $1,337,687 in April.

The art works collected over the Francis's lives have a combined pre-sale estimate of $5.2m to $7.4m. Other artists represented in the collection include Rita Angus, Toss Woollaston and Gordon Waters.

The Canoe Tainui was purchased in 1969 for $550 and was expected to go for between $1.2m and $2m at the auction.

Art + Object director Leigh Melville said this is one of the last major works from McCahon that sat in private hands. The proceeds from the sale will benefit the Francis's three children, she said.

"We've got mixed emotions it's been such a privilege to have the painting here in the room. We've enjoyed working with it and spending time with it. So we're delighted to have such a sale but sad to see it go.

"We are delighted New Zealand's foremost artist Colin McCahon now holds the record for the highest selling painting."

Melville predicted that the work would sell for over $1.2million which meant there are a small number of buyers for paintings at this level. Around five people bidded with two of those coming from the phones.

Tim Francis, who was a former NZ permanent representative to the United Nations and ambassador to the US, died in January. His wife passed away two months later.

The couple bought The Canoe Tainui almost 50 years ago and Francis wrote in 2011 that it had been with them ever since, including when they were posted overseas.

Tim describes the moment they first saw the work that, today, could be worth as much as $2m: "It was stunning, lyrical, subtle, glowing ... You know, up to that point, I had been - apprehensive I think is the word - about Pakeha taking Maori objects, symbols, even history, and making it into something of their own. But this was not like that. The words, the names, were handled reverently. The whole feel of the painting was one of honouring Maori, acclaiming Maori culture ... here is a profoundly expressive celebration of Maori identity, Maori nationality."

The painting, eight panels that Tim and Sherrah always hung in a line as "you are meant to walk alongside it" went to Washington twice, lived in New York once, and had pride of place in the high commissioner's residence in Singapore. In Wellington, it stretches the length of upstairs pelmet, casually flanked by works by Richard Killeen.

"It was part of our family," said their son Paul Francis.

- NZ Herald

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