VERNON — The pause in the online auction was killing Glenna Gardiner.
Was anybody going to bid Wednesday on her Tom Thomson painting — Sketch for Lake in Algonquin Park — she had given to her very best friend, Vernon’s Marit Main, as a 70th birthday present at the Heffel Auction in Toronto?
Somebody did. Then another. And another. All the while Gardiner was following the live auction stream at her home in Edmonton and talking on the phone to Main, who was also catching the livestream at her home while babysitting her grandchildren.
The painting eventually went for $481,250. The buyer is unknown.
“It’s way more than I was thinking,” said Gardiner, 71. “It’s beyond my comprehension. It hasn’t really sunk in.”
“Isn’t it unbelievable?” said Main of the auction price. “I’m so happy for Glenna. It’s very exciting and such a beautiful painting.”
The painting by Thomson, a Group of Seven contemporary who died at age 39 in 1917, was done in 1913, a smaller, precursor to the full-canvas Lake in Algonquin Park that hangs in the National Gallery of Canada.
It was expected to bring in between $125,000 and $175,000 at the Heffel Fine Art Auction House’s spring sell-off.
Gardiner and Main, 72, have known each other for more than 50 years. They met in nursing school at Vancouver General Hospital and have been friends ever since.
Gardiner inherited the painting from her dad, Jack, a United Church minister with a prankster side. He always said it was a Thomson, but Glenna never believed dad. She hung the painting in her Edmonton home but it ended up stuck on a pile on a table with a bunch of other painting.
Main came for a visit and while sorting through the paintings, she said she knew the Thomson work was special and that Gardiner should have it appraised. Gardiner sent the painting to Main as a birthday present.
An artist friend from Norway visited Main and encouraged her to have the work looked at. Main phoned the Heffel Gallery, Canada’s premier art auctioneers, and sent a photo of the work. They called back within two hours and told Main “it looks like it has promise.”
The Heffel Gallery took possession of the work and had it restored in Vancouver. Gardiner and Main visited the painting in early May when they went to Vancouver for their 50-year nursing reunion. Their story had been in newspapers (including The Morning Star) and on social media.
“Our classmates had seen the story and they were so excited,” said Gardiner. “One of our classmates actually went to the auction.”
With the windfall, Gardiner and Main, along with Main’s husband, David, are going on a Meditteranean cruise, and will expand their trip to Norway to visit Main’s artist friend and some family.