Where there is Pain, there may be Gain

David this time is not only inspired by exceptional art, but also by furniture: see the end of this admittedly rather long newsletter, where he manages to combine early Australian colonial with iconic contemporary Australian design, with a quiz thrown in… However, let’s start with some general observations, before delving into the offerings at Bonhams and Goodman and Sothebys.

Fine Art Reporting Marginalised

Is anyone really interested in the sales of fine art anymore? Well, judging by the mainstream press, not really. They seem to be largely uninterested in more in depth reporting on fine art sales. After Peter Fish of the Sydney Morning Herald retired, his weekly half-page in Saturday’s paper was not replaced. When Terry Ingram retired from the Australian Financial Review, there has also been significantly reduced reporting there. Although Terry still contributes to the Fin Review, the space seems to be limited to just one tabloid page. That leaves The Australian which is irregular.

I am still rather surprised at this lack of press. Auction houses such as Sothebys, Deutscher and Hackett, Bonhams & Goodman, Menzies Art Brands and a large number of smaller 2nd tier art auction houses no doubt spend an absolute fortune on advertising in the mainstream press every year.

In my opinion, there is a large reporting gap in the market, which in the future may well be filled by a web designer, and advertisers will be happy to follow, newspapers will wonder why.

Bonhams and Goodman and Sothebys sales

Judging by the art goodies coming on to the market at the Sothebys sale on 4th and 5th May and Bonhams and Goodman on 6th May – all in Melbourne, we may be seeing some serious pain on the financial markets forcing the sale of some of these pictures – some seriously good ones indeed. This may enable some serious gains for cashed-up individuals looking to buy very good art for very good (lower) prices.

Bonhams & Goodman first: We have gotten used to expect several good Albert Tuckers in their offering, but seven works by Arthur Streeton and ten by Norman Lindsay is unusual.

Well, I want to start with their Frederick McCubbin, lot 12 – what a fabulous find. A beautifully atmospheric picture, magnificent light – I look forward to viewing. It’s large at 138 x 70.3 cm, and the estimate, hold your breath, is $ 800,000 to $ 1,200,000. When you know that his similar-size work ‘Childhood Fancies from 1905 sold for $ 1,920,000 (including buyer’s premium) in September 2007, maybe you will think it’s not such a bad price.

Lot 27 is a lovely Thea Proctor, divine composition and subject matter, and with an estimate of $ 7,000 – $ 9,000 it’s a steal.

It is most unusual to see so many Norman Lindsay oils in one sale together: lot 30 The Pirates’ Return; lot 31 Mantilla and lot 32 Magnolia Summer look to be the best of these.

Lots 40 and 41 offer us two works by Russell Drysdale, and very nice to see ones that we have not seen previously, as they come from the estate of the late Margaret Jarrett. ‘The Drover’s Wife’, lot 40, is the star lot of the sale, deservedly receiving the front catalogue cover treatment. This new to the market work of beautiful quality and presence should easily surpass its conservative estimate of $ 300,000 – $ 400,000.

Indeed, there are some very fine paintings included, namely lot 42, Lloyd Rees‘ Midsummer Pastoral, 1945, is Rees at his best, estimate $ 70,000 – $ 90,000. Also, lot 45, Justin O’Brien’s Nativity, 1950, estimate $ 25,000 – $ 35,000, with a spectacular colour palette.

It will be very interesting to see what the William Dargie of ‘The Queen’ lot 47 sells for. The estimate is certainly cautious enough at $ 50,000 – $ 70,000.Does this fit into the National Portrait Gallery’s mandate? I don’t know. They might be more interested in the purchase of lot 67, Albert Tucker’s ‘Yosl Bergner’ from 1985, from the ‘Faces I have met’ series – very powerful indeed.

Finally, two excellent early and colourful John Coburn works, again from the Jarrett estate. Coburn’s early work never seems to do that well, perhaps because of a darker palette. Lot 51, Festival of Lights, 1958, and lot 52, ‘Reaching for the Moon, 1958, are not affected by this, and are very reasonably estimated at $ 8,000 – $ 12,000 each.

Exciting pictures continue to flow at Sothebys

Sothebys effectively are offering us two sales of fine art on 4th and 5th of May. Such is the standing of the collection of Ken and Rona Eastaugh that they have dedicated a complete catalogue to it. This sale kicks off on 4th May in fine style with a magnificent little beach scene by Elioth Gruner, ‘Tamarama Beach’, circa 1920, estimate $ 50,000 – $ 60,000.

Lot 2 ‘Do you want a model, sir?’ by Bernard Hall, is a most intriguing image and should do well, estimated at $ 12,000 – $ 15,000. Lot 4 is a Tom Roberts, yes, it’s a late work by the master, but this imagery of lumberjacks at work is iconic stuff and should supply this work with enough interest from buyers, especially at this estimate of $ 28,000 – $ 38,000.

Lot 13, Circular Quay, by Arthur Streeton, from 1893 was, according to the catalogue, the last painting that Ken Eastaugh purchased before he died. A wonderful painting, and everything you would want in a Streeton work. Sothebys, not surprisingly, used it as the front cover image for the whole catalogue. Comfortably estimated at $ 200,000 – $ 300,000, watch this one fly.

Other exciting and valuable pictures in the collection include John Peter Russell’s Pecheur sur Falaise, lot 17, estimate at $ 500,000 – $ 700,000 and Rupert Bunny’s Femme Lisant, lot 26, at $ 180,000 – $ 250,000.

With a lesser budget, there are also some lovely pictures, including lot 34, Dora Meeson’s On a Chelsea Balcony from 1912. It is a large work with 91.5 x 78.5 cm, and priced at 25,000- $ 35,000. Lot 45 is a large watercolour and gouache by Ellis Rowan, 80 x 38.5 cm, Crepe Myrtle, consistent and refined as one would expect, and priced well at $ 2,000 – $ 3,000.

Lot 49 are two charming little Piguenit vistas of Lane Cove river, each one measures 12.3 x 25 cm, and the estimate is $ 8,000 – $ 12,000 for the pair.

Maybe you have always wanted a work by Hans Heysen: lot 55 is a rather nice example, small at 32.5 x 39.5 cm, showing his mastery with watercolour: ‘Red Gums of the Flinders’ from 1929, with beautiful colour and reasonably priced at $ 10,000 – $ 15,000 estimate.

Sothebys 5th May mixed vendor offering is to be opened by a Joan Miro inspired work by John Coburn, lot 200. It is a large work from perhaps his most sought after period. Although not typical in design, the colours are vibrant, measuring 122 x 153.5 cm. This oil on canvas from a corporate art collection should do much more than its $25,000 – $ 35,000 estimate.

Lot 207 by Russell Drysdale is all the more interesting given that coincidentally a very similar work, which was also in the same Macquarie Galleries exhibition of 1945, is being sold by Bonhams and Goodman as lot 41 of their sale. The work is the same size has been given the same title in the catalogue entries ‘Small Landscape’. From the look of the catalogue, the Sothebys painting is the more appealing and has better provenance. However, the price difference is massive: Sothebys estimate $ 280,000 – $ 350,000 and Bonhams and Goodman $ 80,000 – $ 120,000. Will the Bonhams picture spoil the chances of the Sothebys Drysdale? We will have to wait and see.

Sothebys appear to have pulled off a major coup and changed some Australian art history as well with the sale of the New South Wales Sketchbook ‘Sea Voyage, Sydney, Illawarra, Newcastle, Morpeth’ lot 213. It consists of 26 watercolours and assorted other drawings and sketches and has been almost 200 years in the same family of the artist.

They were previously attributed to Sophia Campbell (1777 – 1833) and with the input of no less than ten different researchers for the cataloguing of this work, the attribution has now shifted to Edward Close (1790 – 1866).

Sothebys write in their catalogue entry: ‘This reattribution represents a substantial shift in the canon of early colonial art. The twin sketchbooks were first published by Joan Kerr in 1975, and Sophia Campbell entered and settled in the art-historical literature as a spirited pioneer and exemplar of that important category of colonial artist, the amateur female sketcher. After more than 30 years, Prof. Kerr’s attribution can be shown to be more optimistic than precise. Not without some regret, the lady vanishes. However, as works by Edward Close, both the present work and the National Library sketchbook can now be matched to his signed Newcastle panorama and Mitchell Library scrapbook, and thus reveal him fully as a most complex and intriguing artistic and social personality, and one of the most accomplished of the Lycett-Taylor-Wallis circle of early colonial artists.’

The most important and interesting of these watercolours has to be ‘The Costume of the Australians’, estimate $ 400,000 – $ 600,000.

I am sure that the following lot, number 214, will be of equal attraction: Conrad Martens. For all those with an interest in the foundations of Australia and its colonial past, this watercolour is both a beautiful picture, an important historical document and social study rolled into one. I look forward to seeing it in the flesh.

I also really like lot 219, a gouache on cardboard by Grace Crowley, painted in 1929. This wonderfully naïve and simple work is a delight, estimated at $ 10,000 – $ 15,000.

According to the provenance of lot 223, renowned art dealer Denis Saville has sold this Charles Blackman ‘Mad Hatter’s Tea Party’, twice previously. The question is, will he be tempted again by this work, with its estimate now $ 500,000 – $ 700,000?

Lot 231, Pelican 1, is a wonderfully playful sculpture by Brett Whiteley, well worth a look; estimate $ 200,000 – $ 250,000. Finally. Lots 270 – 273, are four paintings by Martin Stainforth (1866 – 1957), without a doubt Australia’s greatest equine artist. These works are very conservatively priced from just $ 5,000 to $ 8,000.

And last but not least, a little quiz: Which is Australia’s Most Valuable Chair?

Is it Macquarie’s Chair or Marc Newson’s Chair aka Lockheed Lounge?

The two Macquarie Chairs were crafted by convict craftsmen William Temple and John Webster for Governor Lachlan Macquarie. Built in 1821, one is now in the collection of the Powerhouse Museum, and the other (perhaps not surprisingly) is in the Macquarie University Collection.

‘Lockheed Lounge’ was designed by Marc Newson and created in 1987 – 88. It is up for auction at Phillips de Pury & Co in London on 30th April as lot 72, with a staggering estimate of £ 500,000 – £ 700,000 (about AUD 1 million to AUD 1,5 million).

In my opinion, the winner is undoubtedly Marc Newson’s Lockheed Lounge. Like with Macquarie’s Chair, there is more than one. The last Lockheed Lounge sold at Christies in London in October 2007 for £ 650,000 (about AUD 1,35 million)

Macquarie’s Chair would sell for a lot, if it ever came up, but I think still below the million dollar mark. Which one would you prefer? – Neither looks particularly comfortable, I must say, but that’s really not the point, is it.

See the Lockheed Lounge at Phillips De Pury. See the Macquarie Chair at Macquarie University Library.

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