Jeune fille en uniforme (“Young girl in uniform”) is a 1957 painting by Lemieux, an Order of Canada recipient who is considered one of Quebec’s most renowned visual artists.
Jeune fille was acquired by the AMS in 1958 and is currently one of the 72 works held in the society’s art collection, which was recently assessed as being worth $3.6 million. The piece will be sold via the Heffel Fine Art Auction House, a large art auctioneer that has already sold nine of Lemieux’s ten most valuable works.
“We are the global leaders for selling Jean-Paul Lemieux in auction,” said company Vice-President Robert Heffel at the AMS Council presentation.
A long road to a sale
The AMS art collection, which dates back to 1940, grew rapidly through the 20th century thanks to a series of high-profile donations.
But in recent years, the artwork has become more of a burden than a boon. The works cost $3,000 to maintain according to the AMS’s 2018/19 preliminary budget, and they are rarely displayed.
In the March 2017 referendum, the AMS received approval to sell 4 of its 72 works through the Sale of Hatch Art Planning and Execution (SHAPE) committee, which was largely stagnant in its first year.
Out of the four pieces, Jean Paul Lemieux’s Jeune Fille En Uniforme and Rodney Graham’s Psychopathology of Everyday Life were identified as the most likely to be sold. They were acquired — not donated or commissioned — so there would be “no ethical or legal issues that would hamper this sale,” according to Hatch Art Gallery Manager Maxim Greer.
“Its loss from the collection would not do damage to the intangible importance that this collection has to the AMS,” Greer said, while noting in his AMS Council presentation that funds from the sale would be used to maintain other works in the collection.
Heffel also indicated the plan to sell the work has been underway for some time.
“It’s time to move forward with your plan after all these years,” he said.
Heffel has recommended that Jeune fille be included at its upcoming Fall Auction of Post War & Contemporary Art this November in Toronto.
In a document distributed to AMS Council, the auction house indicated that the painting is likely to sell for between $300,000 and $500,000 — with Heffel’s consignment fee yet to be officially determined.
Heffel, who is also a UBC alumnus, added that the auction house aims to “work closely” with the AMS on future sales — signalling that more of the works approved for sale might be sold through them.
"We want to make this process as enjoyable and seamless as possible,” said Heffel. “But we also want to continue working with you long-term.”