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Impressionists Star at Autumn Australian Sales

A series of autumn auctions at Deutscher and Hackett (April 16-17), Sotheby’s (April 22) and Bonhams & Goodman (April 23) in Sydney and Melbourne yielded solid totals and a handful of surprisingly high prices.

SYDNEY—A series of autumn auctions at Deutscher and Hackett (April 16-17), Sotheby’s (April 22) and Bonhams & Goodman (April 23) in Sydney and Melbourne yielded solid totals and a handful of surprisingly high prices. As usual, the vast majority of works offered in all the auctions were Australian, most of them traditional or ¬modern.

The auctions began at Deutscher and Hackett in Melbourne, where a portrait in the “100 Important Works of Art” sale provided a surprise for the market. A circa-1893 portrait of actress Hilda Spong painted by Australian Impressionist Tom Roberts was bought for A$312,000 ($296,300) by Australia’s National Portrait Gallery, for which a new A$36 million building is under construction in Canberra. The museum’s winning bid, however, at a hammer price of A$260,000 ($241,500), fell well below the estimate of A$300,000/500,000. The sale grossed A$6.6 million ($6.1 million) and was 82 percent sold by value and 79 percent by lot.

Sotheby’s 112-lot auction of Australian art in Sydney was the only one in which a sale price exceeded A$1 million ($940,500). The nature of that lot—a colorful painting of a French flower market by Australian Impressionist Ethel Carrick Fox (1872-1952)—came as another surprise to many observers. Market Under Trees, painted in the early 1920s, sold for A$1,008,000 ($948,000); the estimate for the painting, excluding premium, was A$400,000/600,000.

Sotheby’s, however, had sufficient confidence in the lot to guarantee it for the anonymous consignor, who presumably had held it since it last appeared on the market in August 1999, when it sold for A$266,500 ($173,850), also at Sotheby’s.

Georgina Pemberton, Sotheby’s head of Australian art, said the auction showed the market’s appetite for paintings with good provenance that are fresh to the market. The sale total of A$8.76 million ($8.2 million) came in just above the low estimate of A$8.45 million and well short of the A$11.6 million high estimate. The auction was 74.7 percent sold by value and 63.8 percent sold by lot.

The high price paid for another portrait, an abstract sculpture of an Australian art dealer, helped Bonhams & Goodman achieve the highest sold percentage by value of the week in its third sale since Bonhams joined forces with Goodman. The auction of Australian and international fine art held in Melbourne on April 23 grossed A$4.09 million ($3.9 million) and was 94 percent sold by value, 69 percent sold by lot.

The sculpture, Mask, a 93-centimeter-high (37 inches) bronze portrait bust of Melbourne dealer Anna Schwartz by her former husband, Joel Elenberg (1948-80), sold for an artist record of A$384,000 ($364,700) to Melbourne art consultant Kathie Robb for a private collector (estimate: A$100,000/140,000). The sculptor died of cancer at the age of 34 and his works rarely come to market.

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