Last night, a sculpture by Joe Talirunili (1893-1976) once again broke the record for the highest price paid for a work by an Inuit artist at public auction. The work was offered on May 29th, 2019 in the inaugural sale by First Arts, a new venture by partners Pat Feheley, Ingo Hessel, Mark London and Waddington's. Migration Boat, created in the early-mid 1970's, sold for $408,000 to an unknown telephone bidder after a spirited round of bidding. The work significantly exceeded its $150,000–$250,000 estimate, and set a record as the highest selling work of art by an Inuit artist at auction, breaking a record set by The Migration, a different example of the same subject by Talirunili which sold for $290,000 at Waddington's in 2012.
Talirunili’s Migration Boat is a particularly evocative example of the artist’s most recognizable subject, a group of people travelling in an umiaq. As a child, the artist and his family made a harrowing journey in a skin boat and it left a deep impression on him. It is a subject Talirunili first carved in 1964 and one he revisited throughout the rest of his career across sculpture, drawings and prints.
In addition to Migration Boat, several other records were also set for individual artists at auction. Osuitok Ipeelee's (1923-2005) Fisherwoman (c. 1978–80) sold for $90,000, higher than the previous record of $67,850 paid for Standing Caribou (1980s) sold by Walker's Auctions in 2017. Tuna Iqlulik’s (1935-2015) massive Head (c. 1964) sold for $21,600, significantly higher than his previous record of $3,600 set by Waddington's in 2012 for the artist's Mother and Child (n.d.). Nuyaliaq Qimirpik’s (1937-2007) Horned Spirit and Owl (c. 1968–69) realized $9,600, more than doubling his previous record of $4,560 established by Waddington's in 2013 with the sale of Musk ox (n.d.). Other works that performed strongly were a wallhanging by Jessie Oonark (1906-1985), sold for $102,000, Ennutsiak’s (1896-1967) Umiaq Migration (n.d.) which realized $66,000 and John Tiktak's (1916-1981) Two Figures (c. 1968) which sold for $36,000. Kenojuak Ashevak's (1927-2013) The Woman Who Lives in the Sun (1960) sold for $78,000, surpassing the previous record of $40,950 paid at Heffel in 2013 for a different edition of the numbered print. Ashevak's The Enchanted Owl (1960) which sold for $216,000 at Waddington's in November 2018 still holds the record for the highest price paid for an Inuit print at auction.
Record-breaking sales were also set at Waddington’s on Monday May 27th as part of their Canadian & Inuit Fine Art live sale. Marion Tuu'luq's (1910-2002) Together in Spring (c. 1977), a massive, colourful wallhanging sold for $72,000, more than tripling the artist’s previous record of $21,600 set by Waddington's in 2011. Barnabus Arnasungaaq’s (1924-2017) Musk Ox Attacked by Wolves (n.d.), which sold for $18,000 matched the previous record for the late Qamani’tuaq artist established in 2005 by Waddington's with the sale of Mother and Child (c. 1963). Other works in the sale performed well including Henry Evaluardjuk’s (1923-2007) large Bust of a Woman (1968), sold for $22,800, Dancing Bear (n.d.) by Pauta Saila (1916-2009), sold for $28,800, and Osuitok Ipeelee’s Standing Caribou (1990), which realized $38,400.