MELBOURNE—A marked revival in the market for Australian Impressionist and colonial paintings took place at Christie’s sale of the Bleasel Collection of Australian paintings in Melbourne on March 22. Sotheby’s mixed vendor sale of modern and contemporary art, including works from the collection of financial services company Deloitte, Melbourne, was held in Sydney on March 21 and grossed A$2.9 million ($2.2 million) for more than 200 lots.
At Christie’s, 41 of the 43 lots offered realized a total of A$1.88 million ($1.5 million), compared with a mid-estimate A$1.2 million. The collection had been consigned by Tasmanian liquor wholesaler and nightclub owner James Bleasel and his wife, Margaret. “The result underscores the genuine appeal and ongoing buyer demand for quality traditional works, irrespective of passing trends in artistic taste,” Jon Dwyer, head of Christie’s Australian paintings, told ARTnewsletter.
The Bleasels bought traditional art at the beginning of the 1990s, avoiding the big prices of the 1980s—often well above half a million dollars—which have not been matched since. The couple had paid only A$94,500 for a painting by Walter Withers (1854-1914), Young Girl on a Hillside, at Sotheby’s, Melbourne, in April 2002. This time at Christie’s it fetched A$170,030 ($130,100).
The top price of A$206,465 ($158,980) was paid for Morning Mist, by Hans Heysen (1877-1968), who specialized in painting gum trees. Although Dwyer concedes that the prices are still under the level achieved in the 1980s, he points out “there is always a strong market for paintings of quality by cornerstone Australian artists.”
Sydney dealer Denis Savill gave A$103,232 ($79,490) for John Peter Russell’s Bell-ille-en-mer, circa 1908, pointing out that paintings by this artist made up to A$700,000 in the late 1980s. The sale was also helped by strong bidding from Hobart dealer Nevin Hurst, who acquired 13 lots.
Sotheby’s sold 215 lots, 75.9 percent by value and 63.26 percent by lot. “The sale once again demonstrated the ongoing strength at the top end of the Australian art market, with strong prices being achieved by our top lots,” says managing director Mark Fraser.
These included: Arthur Boyd’s Bridegroom at the Waterhole, for A$259,000, or $205,451 (estimate:A$200,000/300,000); Charles Blackman’s À la recherché du temps perdu (Remembrance of Things Past), for A$229,625, or $182,150 (estimate: A$180,000/250,000); and Brett Whiteley’s Kurrajong, which was bought for A$217,875, or $172,829 (estimate: $150,000/170,000).