It has been a long time since the boom year of 2007 when the print media were excited enough to splash an Australian art auction story on the front page and the bull market was waiting with baited breath for the next great and good auction record to be broken. This week, Melbourne’s ‘The Age’ was happy to oblige prior to the auction on 31 October 2013.
The last big excitement was spurred by the sale of Sidney Nolan’s ‘First Class Marksman’ 1946. This trophy picture to beat them all truly smashed the previous Australian art auction record by almost $2 million, selling at Menzies in March 2010 for $5.4 million IBP.
‘First Class Marksman’ beat the record set by Brett Whiteley’s ‘The Olgas for Ernest Giles’, 1985, which sold through Deutscher-Menzies back in June 2007 for $3.48 million IBP.
Menzies set a record at their Melbourne sale last night with Whiteley’s ‘My Armchair’, 1976 (lot 42), selling the 206.5 x 283.5 cm large canvas for the new artist record of $3.2 million hammer price or $3,927 million IBP.
This painting has everything that a Whiteley trophy hunter wants: it’s large, it’s unmistakably Whiteley, with luscious curves, a desirable colour palette and it’s very easy on the eye.
The two bidders on the phones with Cameron Menzies and Justin Turner lost the battle to the room, with dealer John Playfoot bidding and purchasing presumably on behalf of Spotlight group owner Morry Fraid who was sitting next to him.
Paintings of this quality do not appear often – ‘My Armchair’ was held in the same collection since its purchase from Australian Galleries in 1976 for $10,000 – but with a price like that, it is sure to coax other important tightly held Whiteleys into the auction room in 2014 whose owners may seek a return on a similar scale to ‘My Armchair’.
Brett Whiteley has remained in the ten most traded artists in Australia by value of sales for the last ten years, peaking at the last boom in 2007, when he held first spot based on 105 works selling for a total of $19.45 million IBP.
Overall, the auction night generated for Menzies a sales total of $8.638 million IBP, with 75% sold by volume and 82% sold by value.
Whilst there was standing room only, the market is still there for bargain hunters. Despite competitive bidding on certain lots such as the two works by Jason Benjamin (lot 12 and lot 54) selling well above their high estimates at $23,318 IBP and $40,500 IBP, many sold at or below low estimates.
Other high-flyers were Adam Cullen (lot 19) selling at the high estimate for $15,000 hammer price or $18,409 IBP. Frederick McCubbin’s ‘Mount Macedon’ 1913 (lot 51) soared past its $35,000-$45,000 estimate to sell for $73,636 IBP.
H. Septimus Power’s ‘Cocker Spaniels’ (lot 61), estimated at $8,000-12,000, sold for $18,409 IBP, and a very appealing Tony Tuckson (lot 63) went for $11,045 IBP on a $5,000-$7,000 estimate.
And one of the most appealing early Lin Onus works (lot 79) to appear on the market monumentally outstripped its predictable $6,000-$9,000 estimate to sell for an entirely unpredictable $34,364 IBP.
There was surprisingly keen interest for an awkward and late Norman Lindsay (lot 92) selling above high estimate at $34,364, whilst the eminently superior, larger and earlier ‘At the Court of Marguerite of Navarre’ (lot 93) only just managed to scrape above the low estimate, selling for $51,545 IBP.
Some of the keenest interest was saved up for the last but one lot of the night, Sali Herman’s ‘Street Scene, Sydney’, 1949 (lot 102), estimated at just $12,000-$16,000, and the room bidder looking very happy to pay $36,818 IBP.
The bargains included Rick Amor (lot 25), estimate $5,500-$7,500, selling for $5,000 h.p. or $6,136 IBP; an early small ‘school girl’ Charles Blackman (lot 33), estimate $100,000-$140,000, selling for $80,000 h.p. or $98,182 IBP; Ethel Spowers’ delightful ‘Merchants, Port Said’ (lot 35), estimate $30,000-$36,000, selling for $28,000 h.p. or $34,364 IBP; an oil on copper Arthur Boyd from 1974-76 (lot 36), estimate $60,000-$80,000, selling for $55,000 h.p. or $67,500 IBP.
More bargains going on the night were a large Charles Blackman of ‘Alice in the cat’s garden’ c1969 (lot 39), selling for $115,000 h.p. or $141,136 IBP on estimates of $140,000-$160,000; the set of 8 lithographs ‘Towards Sculpture’ by Brett Whiteley (lot 45), estimate $90,000-$120,000, selling for $65,000 h.p. or $79,773 IBP; Norman Lindsay’s luscious ‘Mantilla’ (lot 56), estimated also at $90,000-$120,000 and selling for $85,000 h.p. or $104,318 IBP; and a dramatic Haughton Forrest (lot 99), estimate $16,000-$20,000, which sold for $12,000 h.p. or $14,727 IBP.
Article originally published in the Australian Art Sales Digest.