MELBOURNE—A month after Christie’s announced it would cease holding auctions in Australia (ANL, 3/28/06), the company achieved one of its highest totals ever for a mixed-vendor sale in Melbourne.
The sale of Australian International and Contemporary Paintings on April 10-11 grossed A$6.38 million ($4.6 million), with 70.6 percent sold by lot and 78.4 percent by value (estimate: A$4.9 million/6.9 million).
The sale set an auction record for a modern Australian painting when Upwey Landscape, 1965, by Fred Williams (1927-1982), from the collection of BP Australia Ltd., sold for A$1.98 million ($1.4 million) to Melbourne dealer John Playfoot bidding for textile merchant Morrie Fraid. This comfortably exceeded the A$500,000/800,000 estimate.
BP had bought Upwey Landscape in 1966 from the artist’s representative, the Rudy Komon Gallery, Sydney, when his top works were priced at around A$3,000. He subsequently has been widely accepted as one of the most important Australian landscape painters of the 20th century.
However, the record lasted just under 24 hours. The following evening at Sotheby’s sale of Fine Australian Art, The Bar, by John Brack (1920-1999), fetched A$3.12 million ($2.2 million), setting an auction record not only for a 20th-century Australian work, but for any Australian painting. The previous record for any Australian painting, also held by Christie’s, was $2.3 million for a late-19th-century painting, Frederick McCubbin’s A Bush Idyll.
The A$9 million ($6.5 million) total flew past the estimate of A$5.5 million/7.5 million; it was achieved on the sale of only 43 lots (out of a total of 57 offered), with 91 percent sold by value and 75 percent by lot. The sale put the company not far short of Christie’s total so far this year of A$11.68 million ($8.7 million).
Christie’s has halted auctions in Australia because of a decision to concentrate resources on developing new markets. The house pointed out that Australia had accounted for only 1 percent of its turnover worldwide.