whale bone, 16 x 6.5 x 8.75 in (40.6 x 16.5 x 22.2 cm)
ESTIMATE: $1,000— $1,500
PRICE REALIZED: $2,160
Ex. Collection of Mr. Paul Duval, Toronto.
Mr. Paul Duval was a distinguished art critic, journalist, author, and friend of the Canadian art community. Recognized as an authority in Canadian art, Mr. Duval wrote publications on many of Canada's foremost artists, including,The Tangled Garden, the Art of J. E. H. MacDonald (1978), A. J. Casson, His Life & Works: A Tribute (1980), and Lawren Harris: Where the Universe Sings (2011).
When Robert and Signe McMichael transformed their private residence into a public gallery in 1966, Mr. Duval wrote their first exhibition catalogue. As the years passed, Mr. Duval would continue to contribute to the McMichael's publications, including writings on the Inuit and First Nations artists and artworks in the collection.
A savvy and astute collector in his own right, in the 1970s, Mr. Duval loaned two works from his collection to the exhibition Sculpture/Inuit: Sculpture of the Inuit: Masterworks of the Canadian Arctic, which travelled throughout North America before heading to Russia and Europe. In 1972/3, Mr. Duval penned the introduction for the Toronto Dominion Bank's travelling exhibition of their Inuit art collection. For his contribution to this publication, Mr. Duval wrote, "The Eskimos [sic] of Canada have created compelling sculptures for more than 2,000 years [...] It was not until the past quarter of a century that the almost miraculous flowering of Canadian Eskimo [sic] art as we know it today occurred." This kind of accessible, insightful language was a hallmark of Mr. Duval's writing. Always coming out with beautiful phrases that would stop you in your tracks.
George Swinton, Sculpture of Inuit, (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1972/92), fig. 535 (labelled as being by an "Unidentified Artist, Pangnirtung").
Like the two portrait heads formerly in the Robertson Collection (see reference), Portrait Bust of a Young Man is a superb sculpture that confounds the "Inuit" label. We wonder if the artist modelled these portraits on photos he might have found in a book or magazine; alternatively he may have used Qallunaat residents of Pangnirtung as subjects. It took extraordinary sensitivity and workmanship to exercise so much control over the material since whale bone, with its porosity, brittleness, and natural flaws can be quite difficult to carve. We are moved, and impressed.
Reference: For two contemporaneous and similarly styled works (male and female) by the artist see Jean Blodgett, Selections from the John and Mary Robertson Collection of Inuit Sculpture (Kingston: Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen's University, 1986), cats. 48, 49; also illustrated in Walker's Auctions, Nov. 2011, Lot 34. Interestingly it is the portrait of a woman that most closely resembles our example.