What is chosen for a cover lot of an auction catalogue can make for interesting insights. Not necessarily is it the most expensive offering of the night, but perhaps a painting that is beautiful, decorative and able to set off a whole catalogue of works. So, not surprisingly, Brett Whiteley makes it on to the front of fine art auction catalogues probably more than most other well-known artists, with the perfect mix of his work being wonderfully illustrative and contemporary, but not too much so, and also wonderfully expensive.
The perfectly titled To Repeat Without Repeating (lot 19) was selected for Deutscher+ Hackett’s cover for their final auction of 2013 in Melbourne on 27 November. It was also their most highly estimated lot at $250,000-$350,000. At first glance, the hammer price of the work at $190,000 might seem disappointing. However, the work was previously sold at the height of the art market in 2007 for $ 165,000 h.p.; so this result actually represents an increase of 15%.
The first eleven lots in the sale certainly fitted the bill as modern contemporary. Kicked off by Ben Quilty’s Virus (lot 1), a very graphic image of his baby son Joe at six months old, led the sale. Estimated at $35,000-$45,000, it sold to much interest for a mid-range $38,000 h.p. 7 of these first 11 lot sold with keen bidding, with Sam Leach (lot 4) selling for $6,500 h.p. on estimates of $5,000-$7,000. A number of bidders with sharpened pencils vying for Lionel Bawden’s The Monsters (lot 6) made out of sharpened pencils selling just under low estimate for $24,000 h.p. A superb Jon Cattapan, Salt Line 2003 (lot 7) sold comfortably at the high estimate of $18,000 h.p., to art dealer and consultant Ian Rogers, who also went on to purchase a John Brack nude (lot 12) for just under low estimate – a good buy at $22,000 h.p. Completing his trio of purchases for the night was a David Davies’ Landscape with figures (lot 66) at again astutely below low estimate for $4,800 against a $5,500-$8,000 estimate.
Surprisingly, Michael Zavros’ star didn’t shine last night: Black Suit, 2007 (lot 3), and White Onagadori, 2007, both failed to sell.
Lot 14 and 15 were perhaps two of the most admired works of the sale, both by Ian Fairweather. Portrait 1939 (lot 14) initially seemed to falter and looked in danger of passing in on its $80,0000-$100,000 estimate, and was saved at the last minute by a bid of $70,000 h.p. Sketch Head, 1941 (lot 15) on the other hand flew to $7,000 above its high estimate, selling for $42,000 h.p.
Arthur Boyd’s Fiery Pulpit Rock c1993 (lot 18), estimated at $100,000-$150,000m sold just below at $90,000 h.p., as did Tony Tuckson’s also fiery Red / Black / White No. 3, c1965 (lot 20), for a hammer price of $60,000 on a $65,000-85,000 estimate.
Rosalie Gascoigne enjoyed a similar just below the low estimate sale price of $95,000 on estimates of $100,000-$140,000.
William Robinson’s many chickens in Birkdale Farm, 1980 (lot 22) fared much better than Zavros’ lone one, achieving $190,000 h.p. for this large and humorous work. His much more difficult The Shell Beach, Kingscliff, 1994 (lot 23) failed to sell on its $120,000-$160,000 estimate, as did his gigantic glazed ceramic pot (lot 24). Again however, the farmyard fun won out for Bill when Goat on Box, 1993 (lot 70), an exquisitely comical ceramic, sold for $12,000 below estimates of $14,000-$18,000.
It was always going to be interesting to see what would happen to James Gleeson, as he had some 15 works offered – of these a most impressive 14 sold, including Reef, 1983 (lot 25), for $45,000 h.p. on $48,000-$60,000 estimates, Figure in Psychoscape (lot 93) for $6,000 h.p. on estimates of $4,000-$6,000, and Psychoscape (lot 99) for $8,500, also on $4,000-$6,000 estimates.
There was also deservedly spirited bidding for three delightful and compact sculptures, two by Clement Meadmore and one by Oliffe Richmond. Meadmore’s Scronch (lot 41) sailed past the $15,000-20,000 estimate to $24,000 h.p., as did Rune, 1995 (lot 42), reaching $22,000 h.p. on the same estimates. Richmond’s Mother and Child (lot 43) soared past the $9,500 high estimate to sell for a $17,000 hammer price.
One art consultant purchased two works: Rupert Bunny’s light filled Cherries, c1908 (lot 30) was one of the best pictures in the sale and secured one of the best prices, selling for the high estimate of $200,000 h.p. Ms Drew also acquired Russell Drysdale’s Men Mixing Concrete, 1937, (lot 31) for under estimate at $85,000.
The ‘Bargain of the Night’ award should go to The Blessing, 1966 (lot 59) by David Boyd. This very large painting sold at the height of the market in 2007 for $114,000 IBP; last night, it sold for $38,000 h.p., perhaps making it bargain of the year. This seems to underpin the observation that David Boyd’s prices have declined by 50% or more on his 2007 results.
Euan McLeod’s strongly exhibited Figure in Moonbi Landscape, 1991 (lot 71), was an excellent purchase for the new owner; estimated at $15,000-$20,000, the hammer price of $25,000 still looked very modest.
Most would acknowledge that Aboriginal art at auction is still an uncertain world and full of risk. Auctioneers go to great lengths to transport often large scale paintings to auction, produce opulent catalogues and commission specialists to write essays, only to see excellent works fail.
Even though values have crashed for some artists, the market, though fickle, is showing signs of encouragement. The cost of staging stand-alone auctions of Aboriginal art is high, and though the temptation to mix it in altogether may be great, this can have a less than desired effect on the sales of Aboriginal art.
Deutscher + Hackett decided to run their Australian and International art in part 1, and Aboriginal art as part 2. Although a number of people clearly left after part 1, others turned up for part 2, which started only at 8.45 pm.
Lin Onus continued to dazzle buyers. After an outstanding result at Sotheby’s the previous night (obviously for a much larger oil selling for $340,000 h.p.) Three Frogs (lot 134) set off part 2 to a spectacular start, selling for $45,000 h.p., more than doubling the high estimate of $20,000.
It looked like a high risk strategy to have so many Emily Kngwarreyes in the one sale, but it paid off: four of the six were sold on the night, and one the next day. Untitled, 1992 (lot 139) sold at the low estimate for $140,000 h.p., Kame Colour, 1995 (lot 145) sold the next day for $115,000 h.p. on a $150,000-$200,000 estimate. Alalgura I, 1990 (lot 146) sold for $120,000 at mid-range estimate. Winter Season, 1991 (lot 165), sold at low estimate for $90,000 h.p., and the delightful Spring Yam Flowers 1992 (lot 166) went for $38,000 h.p.
There is no doubt that Emily Kngwarreye remains the darling of Aboriginal art, and her results at auction through this particularly tough market reveal a never-ending desire from collectors for her work. Emily’s paintings represented 60% by value of the over $ 1 million worth of Aboriginal art sold.
Chris Deutscher commented after the sale that he was encouraged by the number of overseas buyers for their Aboriginal art sale. Perhaps the tide is starting to turn. Certainly the sale of some 300 bark paintings from the Clive Evatt collection is also a fillip for Aboriginal art at the end of another challenging year for Australia’s fine art auctioneers.
Two notable day-after sales included Kame Colour 1995 (lot 145) by Emily Kame Kngwarreye which found a buyer at $115,000 h.p., and James Gleeson’s Wharf at the End of the Street 1990 (lot 26) selling for $25,000 h.p.
The sale brought in overall close to $3.5 million, with clearance rates nudging 70%.
Article originally published in the Australian Art Sales Digest.