Home Online Work Online auction fetches record-setting price for Miller Brittain painting

Online auction fetches record-setting price for Miller Brittain painting


Mario Brideau and Liz Isaac with Figures on the Beach, which sold for $330,000, a Canadian record for a Miller Brittain work. (Submitted by Mario Brideau)

An online auction has set a new record for an oil painting by renowned Saint John artist Miller Gore Brittain.

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When the week-long auction closed on Sunday night, Figures on the Beach sold for $330,000. 

“It’s wonderful to see … that Canadians are appreciating Miller Brittain,” said Liz Isaac, an antique appraiser who worked on the auction with Mario Brideau of Citadel Gallery Auctions. 

For the last couple of years, the two have worked with the estate of Miller Brittain’s daughter, Jennifer, who had a large collection of her father’s work. Miller Brittain died in 1968.

Isaac said many of the pieces, including Figures on the Beach, had been in storage for many years. 

“And it’s a beautiful painting,” she said. “It’s so pleasant. It’s figures on a beach and it’s a mother and a child and a beach ball. It’s beautiful.”

Saint John artist Miller Brittain painted Figures on the Beach in 1964. (Submitted by Mario Brideau)

Isaac said they’ve tried to offer a variety of Brittain’s work in a series of online auctions over the last two years.

“It just seemed like the right time for this one,” she said.

The sale attracted active bidders from all across Canada

“There were definitely Saint Johners bidding,” Isaac said, but “when it got down to it,” the bidding war was between two bidders from outside the city. 

By the time the virtual gavel signalled the end of bidding, the final price tag was $330,000. Add to that a 10 per cent “buyer’s premium” and the total paid was $363,000, which, Isaac said is a Canadian record for a Miller Brittain oil painting. 

Isaac and Brideau were very careful not to reveal anything about the buyer, saying only that the person is Canadian and the purchase is not their first Miller Brittain. 

“They are collectors,” said Isaac, “and not only of Miller Brittain.” 

“Collectors are extremely private when it comes to — especially a painting of that value,” said Brideau. 

When asked if the painting would be staying in New Brunswick, Isaac said, “It’s very possible that the painting could stay local, yes.”

Miller Brittain’s 1962 portrait of his daughter, Jennifer, sold for $62,000 last year. Her estate has been selling several of the paintings that had been in her possession for many years. (Citadel Gallery)

The director and CEO of the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton said it doesn’t matter whether Figures on the Beach stays local. 

“Here’s an artist who should be seen across the globe,” said Tom Smart, who wrote a book about Miller Brittain. 

“I’d like his work to be seen and marvelled at as widely as possible and have a life of its own and affect people in the way it affects me, in the way it affects so many people here at home.” 

Smart said Brittain is one of the greatest painters in Canadian art history. 

“He’s certainly the most expressive artist in these parts of the world … And he’s just an artist of so many different dimensions and so many talents that I’m very, very pleased to see that his legacy is being recognized in this way.”

Value of other works likely to increase

Brideau said Figures on the Beach is a well-documented painting, having been in two books about Miller Brittain, including Smart’s Miller Brittain: When the Stars Threw Down Their Spears

“And it’s been in some shows, so there was a lot of interest, and a lot of history to it,” said Brideau. “So, you know, it’s very important that way.”

Isaac said the record-setting price tag is an indication that Brittain is finally getting his due. 

“It proves that Miller Britain was a very talented artist that deserves this recognition. It might have been some time coming to this extent, but he’s a phenomenal Canadian artist,” she said. 

“And hopefully it will continue to give this awareness of how talented Miller Britain was and the respect that he deserved as an artist.” 

Isaac said the value of Brittain’s work has gone up since she first started working with his daughter’s estate.

“We have been raising the value with each of the auctions that we have done,” said Isaac. 

She said the increases bode well for people who have Miller Brittain works in their collections. 

“But yes, other paintings will come forward and, depending on … subject matter and condition, it should help raise the value [of other Miller Brittain work],” said Isaac.

The National Gallery of Canada describes Miller Brittan as “an outstanding draughtsman, a painter, watercolourist and muralist.”

“He was one of the few Canadian artists creating social satire in the 1930s; his crowded scenes of everyday life reflect a sympathy for humanity and an ability to express character through gesture.”

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