The Tom Thomson painting "Pine Trees at Sunset" has sold at auction in Toronto for nearly $2 million, a record for the artist.

The vibrant oil sketch depicts three spindly trees silhouetted against a sunset is believed to have been painted in 1915 or 1916.

Before Monday's auction, it was estimated that the work would sell for between $900,000 and $1 million. After a bidding war, it sold for $1,957,000, including buyer's premium.

"There was lots of interest," said Stephen Ranger, president of Ritchie's Auctioneers. "There were three bidders on that picture -- and there even could have been more."

The buyer of the artwork, ASH PRAKASH kept quiet about his personal life but was pretty clear about why he thought the piece was well worth the price.

"I am particularly delighted to give it a home this time in Canada where it belongs," he told CTV Toronto.

The high-end art collector has a special spot at home set aside for the new painting, though he wouldn't say where.

There has been a surge in interest in the works of Thomson, who died in 1917 under mysterious circumstances in Ontario's Algonquin Park.

His "Tamarack Swamp (Sketch #5)" sold for $1 million earlier this month in Vancouver. It was Thomson's sixth painting to sell for over $1 million. Another piece is expected to sell for seven figures at a Joyner Waddington auction in Toronto on Tuesday.

Although he wasn't a member, Thomson's work was aligned with the Group of Seven, whose members also captured the beauty of the northern Ontario landscape.

Group of Seven

Group member Arthur Lismer's painting, "Pine Island, Georgian Bay," sold for $318,500 -- twice its estimated value. That sum included the buyer's premium.

The sale features works by other members of the Group Of Seven, including Franklin Carmichael's "La Cloche Hills" and Lawren Harris' "North Shore."

"After decades in private collections, many works are returning to auction and demonstrating the vigorous growth of the Canadian art market," said a Sotheby's Canada news release.

Works by group members Frederick Varley and A.Y. Jackson sold for more than $500,000 in Vancouver last week.

"Cape Mudge," by Emily Carr, another artist closely associated with the group, was also to be on the auction block.

The sale was to feature 218 lots with presale estimates ranging from $6 million to $8.5 million. In addition to paintings, it includes sculptures, prints and drawings.

Other highlights of Monday's sale include works by Douglas Coupland, Atilla Lukacs and Tony Scherman, of the Painters Eleven group.

The auction, a joint effort between Sotheby's Canada and Ritchie's Auctioneers was held at 380 King Street East in Toronto.

"It makes for an outstanding survey of Canadian art history and is highlighted by paintings of an impeccable pedigree. Many of these works have been sourced internationally," Sotheby's said.

With a report from CTV Toronto's Tom Hayes