MELBOURNE—Seasoned collectors accounted for most of the A$13.3 million ($10 million) realized at Sotheby’s sale of the Foster’s collection of Australian art in Melbourne on May 23. The offering of 70 star lots from the beverage company’s collection of Impressionist and colonial Australian art drew both new and established collectors and was 100 percent sold by lot.
Mark Fraser, managing director of Sotheby’s Australia, said that more than 90 percent of the gross came from major buyers, some of whom had not been in the market since a downturn in 1992. This figure included the many purchases by dealers or agents bidding on behalf of their clients.
“Even contemporary art collectors are now looking to painterly qualities and excellence of draftsmanship inherent in the work of the major colonial and Heidelberg school masters,” Fraser said.
Three lots were withdrawn a week before the sale and sold privately to the National Gallery of Australia for amounts disclosed after the auction. Among these were: Aborigine Stalking—Willoughby Falls, New South Wales, by John Skinner Prout (1805-1876), which went for A$176,750, or $134,000 (estimate: A$80,000/120,000); Adelaide, a Tribe of Natives on the Banks of the River Torrens, by Alexander Schramm (circa 1814-1864), which realized A$760,500, or $576,690 (estimate: A$400,000/600,000); and House on the Derwent, Van Diemen’s Land, by John Glover (1767-1849), which took A$1.45 million or $1.1 million (estimate: A$700,000/$1.1 million).
The sale catalogue stated that a guarantee had been given to the vendor, but Fraser declined to confirm whether the figure was the $11 million touted in the art trade (the mid estimate).
At the auction Sunlight Sweet Coogee, by Arthur Streeton (1867-1943), depicting a girl standing on a Sydney beach, fell for A$1.85 million ($1.3 million) against an estimate of A$1.76 million/2.5 million.
The painting went to a phone bidder who also secured Sydney Harbour from Vaucluse, an oil painted in 1840 by Conrad Martens (1801-1878), for A$726,000, or $550,525 (estimate: A$200,000/$300,000).
The biggest spender in the overcrowded room was Sue Hewitt, a former head of Christie’s in Australia, who bought several leading lots, including Arabs Bargaining, 1911, by Ethel Carrick Fox (1872-1952)—an artist usually considered secondary to her husband, Emmanuel Fox. Hewitt paid A$458,750 ($347,870) for this North African work (estimate: A$150,000/200,000). Dealer Philip Bacon was a major buyer, as was private dealer John Playfoot.
One of the few lots to sell under estimate—Impressionist Frederick McCubbin’s Evening in the Bush, 1911—fetched A$875,500, or $663,891 (estimate: A$1.2/1.6 million).
Trevor O’Hoy, president and CEO of Foster’s Group Limited, said the company had “decided to sell its art collection late last year, as it was no longer seen as a strategic fit.”