Canada.com: "One of Canadian art's major auction partnerships has been scrapped after Toronto-based Ritchies admitted it missed a payment deadline for a number of clients who had consigned paintings for a multimillion-dollar joint Sotheby's-Ritchies sale in May.
Sotheby's Canada president David Silcox told Canwest News Service on Wednesday that failing to promptly pay consignors after a sale is a "cardinal sin" in the auction business and that Sotheby's moved quickly to end its seven-year association with Ritchies.
Ritchies president Stephen Ranger acknowledged in an interview that "there was a delay" in payments following the May 25 auction of Canadian art, but that "Ritchies has never reneged on paying a consignor — and we won't."
Ranger said it was his company that terminated the relationship.
He said it's now business as usual for Ritchies — including its current online auction of gold jewelry and its Seasonal Discovery sale set for July 27.
"Our relationship with Sotheby's is terminated, and we're going forward without them — as we had for the 30 years before we worked with them," Ranger said.
In a statement, Sotheby's said: "We have recently heard from a number of consignors and from Ritchies management that Ritchies has not yet paid them for the paintings that were sold."
Silcox emphasized that Sotheby's has had an auction-services agreement with Ritchies since 2002 but had "no ownership interest" in the company.
The statement also said Sotheby's has "voluntarily" offered to ensure payment to all consignors from the May auction, which was highlighted by the sale of two landscapes by Group of Seven master Lawren Harris for $175,000 and $100,000.
The auction drew bids totalling $3.5 million.
"Sotheby's is of course extremely concerned to learn about this situation," the statement noted. "While Ritchies is the auctioneer of record and is contractually responsible for paying out all consignors to the auction, Sotheby's is communicating with each of those consignors of the May 25th sale that we are voluntarily ensuring that all payments due with respect to that sale will be honoured."
Payments by Ritchies to consignors had been due around July 8, Sotheby's said. Its collaboration deal with Ritchies expires on July 31, the statement added, and "Sotheby's does not intend to renew this agreement."
Despite their unexpected and apparently unfriendly parting of ways, Sotheby's and Ritchies have been key players during a remarkable run for the Canadian art market in recent years.
Among the highlights of their seven-year partnership was the $5.2-million sale in 2002 of Scene in the Northwest — Portrait by Paul Kane, an 1846 painting of Victorian-era scientist John Henry Lefroy.
The portrait — which by far garnered the highest price yet paid for a Canadian painting — was purchased by late media baron and art collector Kenneth Thomson.
Sotheby's-Ritchies auctions have produced seven other million-dollar sale prices for Canadian paintings, a key factor in the record-setting hot streak for the country's art sellers during this decade.
Before 2002, only four Canadian paintings had been sold for more than $1 million. Today, the million-dollar club for Canadian art includes more than 30 canvases.
Those sold by Sotheby's-Ritchies include five Harris paintings — Northern Painting 25 ($1 million), Nerke, Greenland ($2.1 million), Winter in the Northern Woods ($1.6 million), Algoma Hill ($1.4 million) and Figure With Rays of Light ($1.1 million) — as well as Tom Thomson's Pine Trees at Sunset ($2 million) and James Wilson Morrice's Effet de Neige ($1.7 million)."
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