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Cutting-Edge Works Spark Competition at Australian Sales

There was strong competition for less-expensive artworks—especially by previously hard-to-buy young Australian artists—at auctions held by Sotheby's, Bonhams & Goodman and Deutscher and Hackett in Melbourne on Nov. 23–26.

MELBOURNE—There was strong competition for less-expensive artworks—especially by previously hard-to-buy young Australian artists—at auctions held by Sotheby’s, Bonhams & Goodman and Deutscher and Hackett in Melbourne on Nov. 23–26.

The sold-by-lot percentages at this year-end series of auctions, traditionally the weakest, were generally stronger than those achieved in August, and buyers appeared to be encouraged by ­more-reasonable estimates. However, works estimated over A$100,000 ($63,000) struggled to find buyers, weighing down totals at Sotheby’s and Bonhams, both of which had focused more heavily on the upper end of the Australian-art market.

Sotheby’s sale of Australian art on Nov. 24 comprised 79 lots, of which 48 were sold, for a total of A$2.76million ($1.7million). The offerings were 67.4 percent sold by value and 60.8 percent sold by lot .

Bonhams & Goodman’s sale of Australian fine art on Nov. 25 comprised 55 lots, which yielded a total of A$2.3million ($1.5million). With 33 lots finding buyers, the auction was 61 percent sold by value and 59 percent sold by lot.

The largest of the sales, with 181 lots, was held at Deutscher and Hackett on Nov. 26, producing a total of A$3.13million ($2million). The auction, in which 131 lots found buyers, was 73 percent sold by value, 72 percent by lot. Chris Deutscher, co-owner of the relatively new auction house, told ARTnewsletter that the house’s more contemporary offerings, as compared with those of its competitors, drew new, younger buyers, which helped bolster sales. There were multiple bidders on many of the lower-priced works by emerging and living artists. For the first time, Deutscher and Hackett’s sale total exceeded that of Sotheby’s.

Museum Offerings Boost Results

Sotheby’s offered a number of works that were being deaccessioned by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, including Brett Whiteley’s large painting Balmoral Beach, 1975–78 (estimate: A$700,000/900,000) and John Perceval’s Pleasure Craft, 1959 (estimate: A$150,000/200,000.)

The Whiteley and the Perceval sold for A$990,000 ($622,300) and A$198,000 ($113,150) respectively, both to Sydney dealer Denis Savill, the former for a private client and the latter for Savill himself.

A group of works by Roy de Maistre—a London roommate of Francis Bacon—which came (by descent) from the estate of Irish-Swedish collector Gladys MacDermot—were snapped up by buyers. These lots included the painting Francis Bacon’s Studio, 1932, which sold for A$180,000 ($113,150) on an estimate of A$60,000/80,000, and de Maistre’s Portrait of Francis Bacon, 1935, which sold for A$96,000 ($60,300) against a modest estimate of A$8,000/12,000.

At Bonhams, one of the star lots of the sale, John Russell’s large oil Sydney Harbor, 1925–30, failed to sell against an estimate of more than A$1million. However, Lysterfield Landscape, 1968, by Fred Williams went to art consultant Vivienne Sharpe for A$390,000 ($245,150) on an estimate of A$280,000/380,000, and Garry Shead’s painting The Supper, 1993, from his “D.H. Lawrence” series, sold to Savill for A$174,000 ($109,370), well over the estimate of A$80,000/120,000. Savill said that while the market offered many good opportunities to buy, there were numerous instances in which prices were not much lower than they were two years ago.

On Nov. 23, Bonhams & Goodman sold the corporate art collection of the Adelaide Bank, bringing in A$717,000 ($450,700). With all 235 lots finding buyers, the auction was 112 percent sold by value.

Among the contemporary offerings at the Deutscher sale were Tim Maguire’s large oil on canvas Untitled (Wild Berries), 2003, which sold for A$120,000 ($77,400) on an estimate of A$100,000/$140,000; Venice Biennale exhibitor Shaun Gladwell’s video work of a skateboarder, Pataphysical Man, 2005, which made A$49,200 ($31,700) on an estimate of A$45,000/60,000; and eX de Medici’s A Cool Hand with the Dice/Biggie, 2007, a watercolor painting of a machine gun, which sold for A$52,800 ($34,000) on an estimate of A$50,000/70,000.

The top price of the Deutscher sale was A$432,000 ($278,620), paid for Sidney Nolan’s oil-on-board Riverbank, 1964, against an estimate of A$350,000/450,000).

New Zealand’s national museum and art gallery, Te Papa Tongarewa, paid A$312,000 ($201,230) for Colin McCahon’s Mondrian’s Last Chry­santhemum: Scared, 1976, an acrylic-on-paper mounted on board, against an estimate of A$260,000/300,000.

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