A Curator’s Eye for the Catalogue

Last evening, we attended the viewing for the Bonhams & Goodman Fine Art Sale on 23rd April in Melbourne. With a substantial number of the works on view, we were treated to some rare delights. Geoffrey Smith, Bonhams & Goodman’s National Head of Art, presented the highlights of these in a floor talk.

Unlike other auction houses, B & G list their works chronologically. So this particular auction starts in the 1860s with ten works, all catalogued as unknown artists: two portraits of Dr. William Wills and Robert O’Hara Burke – yes, of Burke and Wills fame – by the one hand, and eight works by a different hand depicting scenes from their ill-fated expedition. Having come directly down the line of the Wills family, the provenance is certainly impeccable. The ten works carry an estimate of $ 60,000 to $ 80,000.

Following are a number of watercolours by S.T. Gill who is particularly well-known for his paintings of the goldfields. My favourite amongst these is both historically interesting and a very pretty picture: ‘House of Riversdale Road overlooking Melbourne’, estimated at $ 25,000 to $ 35,000.

Will Ashton’s European Work is always his best: lot 24 ‘Marseilles Harbour’ is no exception to this. His work is always good value; this one is estimated at $ 6,000 to $ 9,000.

Janet Cumbrae Stewart’s pastels are consistently beautiful in their execution and composition. Lot 28 is a striking example of her work ‘Nude with Shawl” from 1927, evocative and timeless, the estimate is $ 15,000 to $ 20,000 – I think a very good buy in that range.

I do very much like the landscapes of Grace Cossington-Smith, and lot 34 ‘Valley Farm” from 1937 is a fine example, estimated at $ 28,000 to $ 35,000.

Lot 35 comes from a private collection in San Francisco: Margaret Preston ‘Australian Still Life” 1938. Great to see that the effort has gone into the manufacture of a reproduction of its original frame – it sets the work off perfectly which is as good an example of Preston’s work as you are likely to find.

The highest price recorded on Australian Art Sales Digest for a Preston is $ 374,000 including buyer’s premium at Sothebys in 1989 for a very large work. However, three recent results – Bonhams and Goodman and Deutscher and Hackett in 2007 and in 2006 by Deutscher-Menzies – came in all at $ 168,000 inc. buyer’s premium.

The estimate for the present offering is $ 80,000 to $ 120,000 – this wide estimate and the previous results suggest this work should do very well and over the high estimate.

We are currently seeing a number of works by Danila Vassilieff appear, both his paintings and sculptures. Considering his place in Australian art history, his prices still seem very low compared to his contemporaries. Bonhams & Goodman have six paintings and two sculptures on offer in their sale from the estate of the artist’s wife Elizabeth Vassilieff. The estimates start at $ 6,000.

The sale also includes a number of important works by Albert Tucker, which are likely to garner a lot of interest. I haven’t seen a lot of watercolours by the artist, and I am not the biggest fan of his work, but I really like lot 90 very much: ‘Man and Woman’ 1993, estimate of $ 35,000 to $ 45,000.

What is great to see is that fine sculpture is becoming more established in the secondary market. Some stunning examples have appeared in the auction rooms in 2007, and this seems to be continuing this year. Lot 98, Untitled, 1999 by Akio Makigawa carries an estimate of $ 40,000 to $ 60,000. Lot 77, Joel Elenberg’s “Mask”, 1980, from an edition of 6, is estimated at $ 100,000 to $ 140,000. Watch this space – could this set an Australian sculpture record?

To view works online go to www.bonhamsandgoodman.com.au, and if you would like more information or wish to bid, don’t hesitate to email us

Written by

Brigitte Banziger

Hello, my name is Brigitte Banziger and I am an art consultant and manager at Banziger Hulme Fine Art Consultants, Australia's art valuation and art advice experts. We offer comprehensive art valuation and art brokerage services (selling and buying art on behalf of clients). Our art services cover everything from valuations, art care and restoration, to general advice such as helping define the goals for your art purchase and work out the best strategy on how to achieve those goals, including where, how and and when to buy.

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