A large number of nude and semi-nude figures dominated the Menzies offering of Australian and international fine art and sculpture in the evening sale of 151 lots, set off by four remarkably similar Whiteley nudes prominently displaying their bottoms to the viewer.
Nude offerings also came from Garry Shead, John Brack, Auguste Rodin, Norman Lindsay (of course), Charles Blackman, Arthur Boyd, Guy Boyd, Pablo Picasso, Phillip Piperides, James Gleeson and Richard Larter.
The auction started well with good results for auction room favourite Sam Fullbrook (lot 1), his colourful Compotier, c1969, realising $15,000 hammer price on its $15,000-$20,000 estimate. John Coburn’s Reaching for the Moon, 1992 (lot 3) reached further, achieving the top of its estimated $10,000-$15,000, selling for $15,000. Very competitive bidding ensued for Arthur Boyd’s small but delightful Early Morning, Rosebud Beach, c1975 (lot 9), pushing it to $30,000, $2,000 above its high estimate of $28,000.
Albert Namatjira was represented four times in the night sale, and whilst condition, size and the amount of fading are a consideration for seasoned collectors, Central Australian Landscape with Gumtree (lot 14), a large single gum tree dominating the rare portrait shaped picture, was always likely to enthuse. It didn’t disappoint and easily surpassed its conservative estimate of $15,000-$20,000, with the hammer landing at $32,000.
Likewise, the spectacular, brightly coloured and large Ghost Gum, Central Australia (lot 68) exceeded all expectations by selling for $50,000 hammer price, $5,000 above its $35,000-$45,000 estimate.
Although The Ghost Gum, Central Australia (lot 86), a more typical gum tree and landscape, failed to sell on its $22,000-$28,000 estimate, the more faded but larger Central Australia Landscape (lot 118), sold to an internet bidder for $22,000 on estimates of $24,000-$32,000.
Still lifes by Chriss Canning continue to find favour in the auction room. Even though Sotheby’s achieved an auction record of $30,000 for the artist this year, they are still much more achievable pricewise than an equivalent by either of the Margarets, Olley or Preston. Proteas in Vases, 1982 (lot 24) sold for $11,000 on its $12,000-$18,000 estimate, whilst Artichoke Flowers, 1994 (lot 25) achieved $15,000 on a $16,000-$20,000 estimate – both just below the low estimates.
Meanwhile, John Brack’s Three Couples Dancing from 1992 (lot 26) just snuck above the low estimate to sell at $46,000 on a $45,000-$60,000 estimate.
However Howard Arkley’s Third Overpass, 1998 (lot 27) raced above its high estimate of $70,000 to sell for $75,000 with some very competitive bidding. A comparable painting, though slightly larger but less colourful, sold at Deutscher and Hackett in 2009 for $90,000.
Collectors were equally enthusiastic about Arthur Boyd’s 1968 large and dramatic Blue Ram Balancing Nebuchadnezzar (lot 28), with a respectable hammer price of $65,000 for this work estimated at $45,000-$55,000.
Looking like a good deal for the buyer of the lone Margaret Olley in the sale, Still Life with Flowers and Fruit c1979 (lot 29) sold just below the estimate of $50,000-$70,000 at $48,000. Likewise Inge King’s oft offered sculpture from 1985 Two is a Crowd (lot 30) sold at $85,000, below its $90,000-$100,000 estimate.
The first of the four Whiteley Nudes, Nude in Bath 1978 (lot 31), a small oil on canvas, surpassed its low estimate of $50,000 selling at $55,000. Another bathroom scene, this time in the shower (The Shower, 1984, lot 40) sold for its low estimate of $400,000. At its last outing May 2012 at Bonhams, it failed to find a buyer on estimates of $440,000-$550,000, while in 2002, its sale brought a $260,000 hammer price on a $100,000-$150,000 estimate.
The next lot, also a Whiteley, Nude in Bath, 1986 (lot 41), a mixed media painting from 1986 with a much more subtle colour palette and a steaming hot bathtub also sold, but perhaps considerably under its expectations of $180,000-$240,000, the vendor obviously happy to meet the market: it sold for $150,000.
Following up the rear and the last of the Whiteley bottoms, Nude #4 (Four Nudes series) (lot 97) with a condition problem probably deterred buyers and failed to sell on its rather modest $16,000-$20,000 estimates.
John Brack’s by comparison shy nude, Nude with Frame, 1980 (lot 36), found a buyer at $180,000 hammer price, on estimates of $220,000-$280,000.
Robert Klippel had a good evening with two large scale 1980s sculpture selling well: Opus 372 b, 1981 (lot 35) made $70,000 on its $70,000-$90,000 estimates, and the no doubt extremely heavy Opus 800, 1989 (lot 42) – not shipped to Sydney for the viewing – sold for $180,000 on its $200,000-$250,000.
After some startling recent successes with sales of Jeffrey Smart at Deutscher + Hackett and Sotheby’s the two on offer at Menzies also both sold: Richmond Park II, 1997-99 (lot 37) for $300,000 on estimates of $320,000-$380,000, and Jogger in Cathedral Street, 2003 (lot 47), for $220,000 on estimates of $260,000-$340,000. Notably, the latter sold to an internet buyer, bidding on Invaluable, the art auction hosting site which is used extensively worldwide and now making inroads in the big end of the art town.
There is little doubt that whatever the year, whatever the medium and whatever the quality of the work, collectors are always prepared to pay a premium for any Sidney Nolan painting which includes the image of Ned Kelly. Kelly in Landscape 1967 (lot 38) sold for $600,000, exactly at the high estimate on expectations of $400,000-$600,000.
One of the few major works to pass in on the evening was Fred Williams’ Landscape, Sherbrooke Forest, 1961-62 (lot 39), on estimates of $260,000-$320,000, perhaps a little too abstract for most lovers of his work.
Arthur Streeton’s The Guidecca Laggon, Venice, c1938 (lot 43) sold at the low end for $500,000 on estimates of $500,000-$700,000.
A mighty, limited edition sculpture by Auguste Rodin (La Femme Accroupie, lot 44), cast as recently as 2010 in bronze of an edition of 4, reveals the strength in this master’s work and of the international market, selling at its high estimate of $900,000.
Not a nude, but a landscape was the star lot of the evening: View of Hobart Town, with Mount Wellington in the Background, 1856 (lot 45) by Eugene von Guerard. With all the little houses, windmills and sailing boats in the middle distance, and the snow capped peak in the background, it makes for a timeless and very appealing picture indeed. When John Schaeffer purchased it from Christies in 1996, he paid $748,000. It sold last night for $1.2 million hammer price on estimates of $1.2 million to $1.8 million and becomes the third highest price ever for a von Guerard work, after A View of Geelong and The Great Lake, Tasmania, both much larger paintings, which sold for $1.723 million hammer price and 1.55 million respectively.
A much later painting by Von Guerard, also with a snow capped mountain in the background, this time Mount Kosciusko from 1883, Creek at the Foot of Mt Kosciuszko (lot 54) sold for $110,000, on estimates of $100,000-$160,000.
Other Whiteleys to sell of the 8 offered included Baudelaire’s Bird, 1974 (lot 50), with the added benefit of real feathers, which sold for $170,000, well below the $240,000-$320,000 estimate, while the more Lloyd Rees inspired The River at Yass, New South Wales, 1977 (lot 69), a lovely pencil drawing, easily overtook its $40,000-$50,000 estimate, selling for $60,000.
John Perceval’s The Cornfield, 1959 (lot 51) sold at mid-range at $360,000 on estimates of $320,000-$380,000. Sought after also was Vida Lahey’s Brisbane from South Bank c1920s (lot 89) which on estimates of $18,000-$24,000 sold eventually for a very healthy $26,000. A landscape from a similar era by Elioth Gruner (lot 90) from 1930 sold just below its high estimate of $15,000 for $14,000.
The Tunnel, Bellicourt Entrance (lot 96) by Arthur Streeton, a rather foreboding World War I painting, had enormous interest and a very disappointed room bidder when auctioneer Justin Turner finally hammered it down at $125,000, two and a half times the high estimate of $50,000.
However the prize for the most undervalued lot must go to Peter Kingston’s Tug, 2000 (lot 110), a large painting measuring 120.5 x 140 cm. Kingston’s highest ever auction price is $2,200 set in 2006. Fast paced eager bidding made its $2,500-$3,500 estimates look farcical when it sold for $27,000, setting an auction record for the artist.
The night saw 81% by volume and 87% by value sold, with an overall result just over $10 million including buyer’s premium.
(Article originally published in Australian Art Sales Digest)