Artwork by Norval Morrisseau,  Animal Unity

Norval Morrisseau
Animal Unity

acrylic on canvas
signed in syllabics lower right
50 x 108 ins ( 127 x 274.3 cms )

Auction Estimate: $90,000.00$70,000.00 - $90,000.00

Price Realized $312,000.00
Sale date: June 15th 2022

Collection of the artist
The Pollock Gallery, Toronto
Private Collection
Joyner Waddington’s, auction, Toronto, November 22, 2010, Lot 204
Kinsman Robinson Galleries, Toronto
Private Collection
Lister Sinclair and Jack Pollock, “The Art of Norval Morrisseau”, Toronto, 1979, page 158
Armand Garnet Ruffo, “Norval Morrisseau, Man Changing into Thunderbird”, British Columbia, 2014, pages 196 and 198
Lister Sinclair and Jack Pollock note that “Animal Unity” is “reminiscent of [the artist’s] earliest imagery [and] shows the interdependence of all creatures who inhabit the sky, the earth and the water.”

In 1976 Norval Morrisseau was introduced by his assistant Eva Quan to Eckankar, a belief system that welcomes past lives, dreams and the ability of the soul to travel. Quan hoped it would help with Morrisseau’s heavy drinking. As Armand Garnet Ruffo writes of Morrisseau, “a light goes on that illuminates the world and confirms everything taught to him by his grandfather Potan all those years ago. He connects Eckankar’s emphasis on soul travel through the astral planes to his traditional Ojibway teachings.” Ruffo goes on to quote Morrisseau at this great turning point in his life: “What I’m going to paint is the Indian spiritual version, the Indian way of what the physical universe looks like, and the astral heaven on top, and all the things we believed in up there. There’ll be men and animals and there’ll be thunderbirds, they’ll be everything.”

Ruffo captures Morrisseau’s new excitement, noting: “And with this Morrisseau plunges fully into what he now calls his ‘psychic state’ and the circles that stood off in the corners of his early paintings become central. Soon they will open up and become portals where humans, fish, and animals move through levels of existence. It is a theme that he will continue to develop as he explores what he calls the ‘healing power of colour’.”

Interestingly, “Animal Unity” was painted two years after Morrisseau’s exposure to this new belief system and is a wonderfully balanced composition of colourfully depicted animals, connected by red and black lines set against an intense yellow background.
A monumental canvas by Anishinaabe artist Norval Morrisseau sets a new artist record selling for $312,000, quadrupling the previous record in the Spring 2022 Live Auction. “Animal Unity” smashed the current artist record at auction soaring to $312,000, more than four times the low end pre-sale estimate and over four times the previous record of $71,500, set over a decade ago.

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Norval Morrisseau
(1931 - 2007) RCA, Order of Canada

Born in 1931 at Sandy Point Reserve, Ontario, Morrisseau was a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts since 1970. Norval Morrisseau was the celebrated founder of the Woodland School, which revitalized Anishnabe iconography, traditionally incised on rocks and Midewiwin birchbark scrolls. A self-taught painter, printmaker, and illustrator, Morrisseau created an innovative vocabulary which was initially criticized in the Native community for its disclosure of traditional spiritual knowledge. His colourful, figurative images delineated with heavy black form lines and x-ray articulations, were characteristically signed with the syllabic spelling of Copper Thunderbird, the name Morrisseau’s grandfather gave him. Morrisseau completed many commissions during his career including the mural for the Indians of Canada Pavilion at Expo 67. He was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1978 and, in 1980, received honourary doctorates from both McGill and McMaster universities. In 1995 Morrisseau was honoured by the Assembly of First Nations.