On a night when iconic indigenous artists Rover Thomas (Joolama) ((c1926-1998) and Emily Kame Kngwarreye (1910-1996) dominated proceedings at Deutscher and Hackett’s Important Australian Aboriginal Art in Melbourne on March 30, a much-loved compatriot Albert Namatjira (1902-1959) achieved an artist auction record for his watercolour entitled Glen Helen Gorge (lot 2), changing hands for $122,727 including buyer’s premium – more than twice its high catalogue estimate.
In 1934, Namatjira launched his career as a professional painter after viewing a watercolour exhibition by Victorian artists Rex Battarbee and John Gardner at the Hermannsburg Mission in central Australia.
His works have been steadily increasing in value over the past few years and the artist record is a fitting tribute to his legacy.
The previous lot (lot 1) entitled Looking West Spring Gap also performed well, selling for $110,000 on a $25,000-$35,000 catalogue estimate.
It is no surprise that Thomas – whose painting Tumbi (Owl) (lot 9) was the top seller at the auction, bringing $257,727 – given that his paintings have attracted high prices for many years and his greatest works are on show in major Australian and international art galleries.
Likewise, Kngwarreye’s works have been sought after, both nationally and internationally, since the early 1990s and her paintings in this auction filled four of the top 10 places.
The highest was Merne (Everything) (lot 5) that sold for $220,909 – but the other three each changed hands for more than $100,000.
These include Bush (Emily’s) Dreaming (lot 37 - $147,273), Merne Eudunga (lot 29 - $122,727) and Alhalkere Country (lot 38 - $104,318) – all selling well within or above their catalogue estimates.
Nine artist records were achieved during the sale, including John Mawurndjul for his bark painting entitled Ngalyod Rainbow Serpent, 2004 that sold for $122,727 on a $70,000-$90,000 estimate, and Owen Yalandja ($51,545 for Yawkyawk – lot 8).
Other artists to record their highest auction figure included Daniel Walbidi for Kirriwirri (lot 26), which against a $30,000-$50,000 estimate sold for $128,864, Lorraine Connelly-North whose lot 44 piece Narrbong (String Bag) brought $20,864 on a $5000-$7000 estimate and Jimmy Baker (lot 48) achieved $61,364 for his Katatjita titled work.
The art sale reached a total of $2,585,373 including buyers’ premiums, which was 127 per cent by value and 87 per cent by volume.