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Record price for Inuit sculpture

A piece by famed artist Joe Talirunili sold at auction in Toronto on Monday night for what is believed to be the highest price recorded for an Inuit sculpture.

CBC News


The Migration, a 30-centimetre wide work in grey soapstone, went for $278,500, more than four times the pre-sale price set by Waddington's auction house.

It was bought by an unidentified Canadian telephone bidder.

"A number of people were involved up to $80,000, and after that [just] the two phone bidders stayed in," said Waddington's president Duncan McLean.

"My understanding is it's the highest price ever paid for an Inuit sculpture," added McLean, an expert on Inuit art.

"We sold a set of Inuit prints a few years ago for about the same price, but that was for a complete set of 34 items from 1959."

The subject of The Migration was a popular one for Talirunili, a Quebec Inuit who died in 1976.

"It is his depiction of an event that happened when he was an infant, when the community he was part of got into trouble and were starving," McLean said.

"To save themselves they jerry-rigged an umiak, a boat, and got back to shore and saved themselves, and this is the story of that adventure."

McLean said Talirunili created as many as 25 or 30 works depicting the incident, but almost all of them showed people in the boat.

"This one is unique because the crew were rabbits, and the two people in the front, I guess it was the captain or whatever, were an owl and a wolf," he said.

"It was very whimsical, and very well done."

The Migration sat on the vendor's coffee table for 40 years, McLean said. The vendor's brother was a Canadian artist who employed Talirunili in his print shop during the 1960s.

McLean had no idea what the piece would have been worth back then, but noted that "it would obviously be a small fraction of what it brought last night."