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Australian Art Sale in Melbourne Falls Short of Expectations

The first sale of important Australian art held by Sotheby’s Australia as a franchise operation, in Melbourne on April 20, fell short of expectations.

MELBOURNE—The first sale of important Australian art held by Sotheby’s Australia as a franchise operation, in Melbourne on April 20, fell short of expectations. The sale took in a total of A$6.1million ($5.6million), including buyers premium, against an overall estimate of A$8.2million/11.1million.

Although just 66 percent of the 118-lot offering found buyers, Sotheby’s Australia’s national head of fine art, Geoffrey Smith, told ARTnewsletter that the auction house was very satisfied with the results. By value the auction was 55 percent sold.

The offering featured some strong and desirable lots, which were priced to sell and found a receptive market. A small Sidney Nolan painting of one of the artist’s most sought-after subjects—the life and trials of outlaw Ned Kelly—fetched A$520,000 ($477,950), amounting to a total of A$624,000 ($573,530) with the 20 percent buyer’s premium, three times the estimate of A$120,000/180,000. The small painting sold to Sydney dealer Michael Nagy, brother of Richard Nagy, the well known London dealer in Vienna Secession art.

This follows the auction record set last month at Deutscher Menzies of A$5.4 million ($4.9 million) for Nolan’s First-Class Marksman, 1946, bought for the Art Gallery of New South Wales, from the original of several Ned Kelly series (ANL, 4/6/10).

Early 20th-century Australian Impressionist painter Ethel Carrick Fox’s Flower Market, Nice, ca. 1906, sold for A$57,600 ($53,600) on an estimate of A$25,000/35,000).

Among other top-selling lots, an oil by Lloyd Rees (1895–1988), Sydney–The Source, 1973, sold for A$504,000 ($463,235) against an estimate of A$450,000/$550,000.

Mask I, 1978, a black Belgium marble sculpture by Joel Elenberg (1948–80), sold for A$192,000 ($176,471) on an estimate of A$120,000/160,000. And another work by Fox, Watching the Fleet from the Domain, 1913, took A$348,000 ($319,850), at the top of the A$250,000/350,000 estimate.

Noting the prices achieved for Rees, Elenberg and Fox, Smith said the results “show the resiliency of the art market for the very best material.”

The total was roughly equal to the sum of the May auctions held last year by Sotheby’s Australia when it was a subsidiary of Sotheby’s and Bon­hams and Goodman. Last year’s totals for the mixed-vendor sales were A$3.4 million ($2.5million) for Sotheby’s and A$2.8 million ($2million) for Bonhams and Goodman.

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