Perhaps not since the time of World War II have Australians felt so strongly about the comforts of home, while many are trapped in overseas countries with little chance of returning quickly. Home then becomes a haven and shelter, a place to feel safe and secure. With share markets declining everywhere, perhaps we seek solace in the more tangible and perhaps comforting purchase of art to fill our walls whilst we work from home.
That might just do it. If the Deutscher + Hackett sale of Aboriginal art is anything to go by, where 80% of art sold to local Australian collectors, then a further litmus test and test of confidence would be the large Davidson Auctions’ sale of Australian and International Art on Sunday, which had combined low estimates of $444,000 and high estimates of $731,000 for the 472 lots. The sale proved to be very successful, generating a total of $450,000 hammer price and a 80% clearance rate.
In the week before the sale, principal Robert Davidson had informed prospective buyers that the auction house would absorb the online bidding fee of 5% charged by the online auction platform Invaluable.com on top of the standard buyer’s premium.
With this unprecedented move, Davidson may well have eliminated a major barrier to bidders, not only the ones who were not prepared to risk the new inherent dangers of room bidding due to coronavirus, but all bidders wherever they are located.
This seems to have proved a savvy step, and even though it demonstrates the power that companies like Invaluable.com have, these platforms may become even more important than they have ever been, for auctioneers, sellers and buyers.
The Davidson sale started off well with several typical works by Australian masters: the first lot to be sold was somewhat poignantly Schoolgirl Crying, 1953 (lot 2), a pencil sketch by Charles Blackman which sold on its low estimate of $1,600 hammer price.
Three paintings by David Boyd (lots 3, 4 and 5) estimated at $7,000-11,000, $5,000-7,000 and $3,500-5,000 sold for $8,000, $4,750 and $3,500 respectively.
A Brett Whiteley screenprint Swinging Monkey, 1965 (lot 6) sold on hopes of $2,500-3,500 for $4,250. This was followed by three appealing and typical Russell Drysdale drawings: At the Bar ( lot 7), sold for $3,500 mid-estimate, Country Child (lot 8) sold for $3,250 on estimates of $2,000-4,000, and Drover Resting (lot 9) sold on the low estimate for $2,000.
A Norman Lindsay oil Nude in a Glade (lot 13), was offered at $8,000-12,000 and sold for $8,500, whilst the watercolour At Tavern Close (lot 14), sold for the same price on hopes of $7,000-11,000.
Herbert Badham’s work remains not just highly sought after, but very rare to market. A delightful, late painting by the artist proved once again his popularity, when Snow in Courtfield Gardens, 1955 (lot 23), on expectations of $2,000-4,000 soared to $11,000 with room and online bids aplenty.
3 out of 4 paintings by Hugh Sawrey also sold well, the best result achieved for The Camp at the Seven Mile… (lot 24), estimated at $10,000-12,000 and selling for $9,500.
A tiny painting measuring just 30 x 30 cm by Australian abstractionist giant Elizabeth Cummings (lot 31) achieved an impressive $2,750 on hopes of $1,800-3,500, while our other leading abstract master Tony Tuckson also achieved good results: Untitled, Woman at Table (lot 41) sold for $3,250 just below the low estimate of $3,500 and Abstract on Newsprint – Red and Black (lot 42) on $1,500-2,500 hopes sold for a newsworthy $4,000. The third Tuckson TD 4550 (lot 43), a very small 10.5 x 15.5 cm sold for $2,250, estimated at $800-1,200.
An unusually large painting in William Blamire Young’s chosen medium of watercolour Horse Team Crossing Australian River Landscape (lot 60) sold for an unusually large price: estimated at $8,000-12,000, it sold for a stunning $18,000. This sale put this work as the fourth highest price recorded for the artist after Mauls and Wedges, 1927-29, sold by Leonard Joel in September 2013 for $22,000 hammer price.
Five paintings by Roland Wakelin all sold, including The Harbour from Berry’s Bay (lot 61) for $1,800 on estimates of $2,000-4,000.
3 paintings by D’Arcy Doyle also sold, including Taking Dad’s Advice (lot 67), selling mid-estimate for $5,500.
5 Pro Hart paintings sold, with Race Meeting, 1974 (lot 72) racing to a hammer price of $4,000 above its high estimate of $3,500.
There were 5 paintings by Alison Rehfisch offered in the sale, of which a very respectable 4 found buyers, with an excellent result of $6,500 for Brick Kiln (lot 79), estimated at $2,500-4,500.
Norman Lindsay etchings have been in the doldrums lately, but fortunes were reversed with the lovely selection offered at Davidson’s: lots 110 to 115B provided good buying opportunities. The best result was achieved for a delightful group of 3 original etchings from 1922 with editions of 55; estimated at $3,500-4,500, they sold for $4,000.
The sleeper award of the auction went to Alan Oldfield’s Three Objects and Cubist Landscape (lot 159): with modest estimates of $250-450, it achieved a multiple of almost 10 times the low estimate and selling for $2,250.
Davidson Auctions have been successfully selling works by international artists since the start of their operations, and this surely was their big test. However, absorbing the 5% Invaluable online bidding fee may have been further enhanced by the drop of the Australian dollar against the US dollar as well as the British pound and may have encouraged overseas buyers even more.
One of Davidson’s more unusual international success offerings are paintings by prominent Mauritian painter Malcolm de Chazal (1902 – 1981). In this sale, 15 paintings were on offer, and a very impressive 13 of these sold, with the best results for Tropical Buildings and Palm Tree (lot 182) of $2,500 on estimates of $1,000-2,000.
American George Condo is a darling of the contemporary art world, and when 6 of the artist’s large-scale etchings and aquatints from the early part of his career are offered, unsurprisingly, interest levels are very high. All 6 prints sold, with the highest price achieved for More Sketches of Spain for Miles Davies, 1991 (lot 232), selling for $1,900 and thereby more than doubling the low estimate of $800.
Four Joan Miro aquatints from 10 years earlier 1981, and the latter part of the artist’s career, also received very strong bidding. Again, all sold well above expectations, for example lot 229 for $1,400 hp on hopes of $300-500.
Another exceptional result was achieved in the middle of the sale, when the highly atmospheric Boats on the Yarra (lot 274) by Aileen Dent on hopes of just $400-700 sailed away to reach $2,750.
A Charles Conder pen and ink sketch (lot 344) did well for the seller: estimated at just $200-400, it sold for $1,400.
Manly’s very own social realist painter of the 1940s, Harold Greenhill, is strongly represented with a dozen works in the Manly Art Gallery collection. A very good example of his work, Neighbours, Oyama Street, Manly, 1946 (lot 347) carried estimates of $1,500-3,000 and unsurprisingly sold well above for $3,750.
Speaking with Robert Davidson, he was naturally very pleased with the success of his sale. He told us that he had decided to absorb the 5% Invaluable.com fees to assist many of his regular clients who would have found it difficult to be in the room in the current circumstances. His collectors saw this as a sensible and helpful concession. Would he do it again? – Depending on the situation, the answer would probably be Yes.
Davidson Auctions already have a strong online bidding clientele of around 30%, and noticed a lift in this sale up to around 40%.
Robert Davidson said he could well imagine his next sale without any bidders in the room, depending on government restrictions, and does not necessarily see this as an impediment.
He also pointed out that there was a lot of goodwill for his sale and that his clients wanted to see “business as usual” and as unaffected as possible by the current crisis.
We also spoke with Chris Deutscher, director of Deutscher + Hackett, whether they had noticed significant changes in buyer behaviour in their stand-alone Aboriginal art sale last week. As reported on AASD, 80% of sales were to local buyers. Within the international component, France were active, while the US were a little down. Chris Deutscher said that the Aboriginal art market had expanded in recent times, hence their move towards their first stand-alone Aboriginal art auction since 2016. The room audience was reduced to about half, but according to Deutscher, buyers who did not attend mostly moved to phone bidding, as the 5% Invaluable.com online bidding fees are understandably somewhat of a deterrent to buyers of higher value lots.
Generally D+H buyers however just watch the auction online and use phone bidding to participate in the sale. He said it was noticeable that all of the people in the saleroom were serious bidders, which made for a lively room experience. Like Robert Davidson, Chris Deutscher said that what they felt from their buyers in particular was a huge amount of goodwill, very much wanting to support this sale in these difficult times.
Chris Deutscher also told us that due to the uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 crisis, their May fine art sale had been rescheduled to 17 June 2020.
Article originally published in Australian Art Sales Digest, 23 March 2020