ARTnewsletter Archive

Australian Auctions: High-End Works Ice the Cake

The Christie’s and Sotheby’s end-of-year auctions in Melbourne—typically smaller sales—saw strong attendance. However, most of the bidding activity was either on the phone or with trade buyers in the room.

MELBOURNE—The Christie’s and Sotheby’s end-of-year auctions in Melbourne—typically smaller sales—saw strong attendance. However, most of the bidding activity was either on the phone or with trade buyers in the room.

Eight of the top lots offered at Sotheby’s sale of Australian and International art on Nov. 28 went to phone bidders. Five of the top ten lots at Christie’s sale of Australian, International and contemporary paintings on Nov. 22 went to the trade either in the room or on the phone. The results of both sales showed strong support in the higher-priced works and more limited interest in the lower ones.

Christie’s grossed $A3.15 million ($2.3 million), with the percentage of lots sold at only 55.6 percent but sales by value at 70.7 percent. Sotheby’s grossed $A3.7 million ($2.72 million), with 55 percent sold by lot and 77 percent by value.

Sydney dealer Denis Savill was a major buyer at Christie’s, snapping up 15 lots and underbidding on 25. Savill said that fresh stock was “not walking through the doors into the gallery” anymore, noting that Christie’s top lots were fresh to the market.

Christie’s director of paintings, Jon Dwyer, said the result was very strong for the final auction of the year. “The market again showed a desire for paintings of quality that are fresh to the auction room,” Dwyer told ARTnewsletter. He noted that most of the highest prices were for paintings that had not previously, or else rarely, been traded since their acquisition 50 years ago.

The top price at Christie’s of A$336,820 ($247,700) was paid by a phone bidder Christie’s described as “trade,” for Ned Kelly and Two Figures, 1964, a favorite subject of Australian artist Sidney Nolan (estimate: A$120,000/ 180,000). A phone bidder in Taiwan paid A$303,625 ($223,285) for an erotic, circa 1940 oil painting by Norman Lindsay, estimated at $A230,000/300,000.

At Sotheby’s another Sidney Nolan Ned Kelly, which had a long association with Melbourne’s Gould Galleries, also went to a phone buyer for A$558,625 ($409,818). The Kelly work had appeared at Christie’s in August 1998, when it made a hammer price of A$110,000. Melbourne dealer Rob Gould had sold it twice since.

Brett Whiteley’s brown-and-dark-green Ponds and Poplars (which Savill Galleries had purchased at auction for A$226,000 in 2000), went for A$517,500, or $379,648. Both carried solid estimates: $400,000/500,000 for the Whiteley scene and $475,000/575,000 for the Nolan picture.

Sotheby’s head of Australian art, Geoffrey Cassidy, taking special note of the Whiteley and Nolan paintings that “broke the half-million-dollar mark,” said the house was “delighted with the results.” The auction also saw the continued dominance of the postwar moderns, with the top ten featuring a range of works by Charles Blackman, Arthur Boyd and Nolan.”

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