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New Players Help Set Australian Records at Sotheby’s $18.6M Sale

Numerous records were set at the Sotheby’s sale of Australian art, including works from Qantas’ collection, at Paddington Town Hall on May 1. The A$22.45 million ($18.6 million) total exceeded the presale estimate of A$12.3/17.3 million, as well as the previous high of A$15.9 million ($9.4 million) made for the Harold E. Mertz collection, consigned

SYDNEY—Numerous records were set at the Sotheby’s sale of Australian art, including works from Qantas’ collection, at Paddington Town Hall on May 1. The A$22.45 million ($18.6 million) total exceeded the presale estimate of A$12.3/17.3 million, as well as the previous high of A$15.9 million ($9.4 million) made for the Harold E. Mertz collection, consigned by the University of Texas and sold by Christie’s in 2000 (ANL, 7/11/00).

The latest sale was dominated by big-ticket lots from the Australian airline’s offering, which was being sold to raise funds for artists’ scholarships. The total of lots sold represented 93.9 percent by value, 84.4 percent by volume. Only 18 of the 114 lots went unsold, with the 22 Qantas lots all accounted for.

The biggest surprise was the 1969 John Brack painting The Old Time, which made A$3.36 million, or $2.8 million (estimate: A$600,000/800,000), eclipsing the previous record of A$3.12 million ($2.3 million) paid in April last year for Brack’s 1954 painting The Bar.

Fresh to the market, The Old Time was consigned by an anonymous vendor, or vendors, who had held it from the time it was painted and then put it on the market through a gallery in 1970. The picture was bought by Jon Dwyer, an art consultant and former department head at the Melbourne auction house Joel’s, as well as at Christie’s.

Sotheby’s had anticipated a possible new record—but not for the Brack. The betting had been on Brett Whiteley’s mural-size Sydney Opera House, 1971-82, from the Qantas collection. Sydney Harbour is one of the bestselling subjects in Australian art particularly as depicted by this artist.

Whiteley’s Opera House fetched A$2.8 million ($2.3 million) from a phone bidder. It had hung for years in the business-class lounge of the airline at the Sydney Kingsford Smith domestic airport.

Profits Earmarked for Artists’ Scholarships

Qantas made a good profit on the picture, having acquired it from the artist in 1980 in return for A$200,000 worth of travel. The price was still way ahead of the artist’s previous record of A$2.04 million ($1.55 million), paid for Frangipani and humming bird—Japanese: Summer, 1988, at Sotheby’s last August.

In all, the Qantas offering of 22 works grossed more than A$4 million ($3.3 million) toward the artists’ scholarships the airline is offering.

Records were set for 11 artists, including Penleigh Boyd, Leonard French, Donald Friend, Clement Meadmore, William Robinson and John Peter Russell. A giant 8-by-19-foot picture by Charles Blackman, Dream in a Cat’s Garden, circa 1970s, also from the Qantas collection, took A$528,000 ($437,900) from the same phone bidder who had acquired the Whiteley piece.

Robinson’s Landscape with Sunset and Self Portrait, 1988, consigned by Sydney collectors Colin and Elizabeth Laverty, sold for a record A$696,000 ($577,300) to the Queensland artist’s Brisbane dealer Philip Bacon.

Melbourne dealer Brian Kino bought Boys on the Beach, Belle-Ile, circa early 1900s, by Russell, an Australian friend of Claude Monet’s, for A$1.8 million ($1.5 million).The painting is slated for the expanding collection of Melbourne property developers Lustig & Moar.

The identities of most of the collectors remain veiled, but a booming stock market and strong economy seem to have introduced many new players.

The sale of the Qantas trove follows a run of dispersals of Australian corporate collections, including that of the well-known beer brand Foster’s. The strong sale comes a year after Christie’s quit Australian auctioneering because, the house said, Australia represented only 1 percent of its world turnover, and opportunities elsewhere appeared more promising (ANL, 4/25/06).

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