"Auction first" painting proves popular at Sydney art sale

“Auction first” paintings are always popular – so it was no surprise that John Brack’s (1920-1999) The Wedding Breakfast 1960 (lot 30) sold for $1,043,182 including buyer’s premium at Menzies Important Australian & International auction on March 31 in Sydney.

The hammer price of $850,000 almost reached the $900,000-$1.2 million catalogue estimate for a painting (depicting the cutting of the wedding cake) central to the artist’s Wedding series created for the 1960 Helena Rubenstein Travelling Art Scholarship Exhibition.

It is a critical part of Brack’s oeuvre because it provides a vital link between the artist’s astute 1950s social commentary and his satirical Ballroom Dancers series of the following decade.  

An artist record for Cressida Campbell was created for her work The Verandah, 1987 (lot 22) which sold for $515,455 – more than $200,000 above her previous high of $292,800 Interior with Cat 2010 paid at Sotheby’s Sydney sale in August 2019.

However, the real mover was Helen Johnson whose Death Painting (Knowledge Transfer Ghoul), 2017 (lot 19) changed hands for $116,591 when her previous auction high had been only $4560 in May 2012.

As always, Jeffrey Smart figures prominently in any auction where one of his paintings appears – and this time was no exception.

Lot 29, Pylon 1, 2006, was knocked down for $700,000 ($859,091 with BP) – its high catalogue estimate – while another of his works Third Study for The Two-up Game, 2006 sold for $147,273, the same price as that paid for Ben Quilty’s Self Portrait as a Budgie, 2004 (lot 17).

Arthur Boyd (1920-1999) also figured in the top 10 with his Eltham Dam, 1959 (lot 28) landscape which brought $503,182 – more than double its high catalogue estimate.

British painter David Hockney was another strong finisher with Lithograph of Water Made of Thick and Thin Lines and Two Light Blue Washes, 1978-80 (lot 21) with the eventual buyer paying $245,455 for the work – and Joel Elenberg’s (1948-1980) Head III (lot 20) changed hands for $208,636.

John Olsen rounded out the top 10 results with Where Wattle Pollen Stains the Doubting Heart, 2014 (lot 27) – while John Glover’s (1767-1849) Morning Mist (lot 45) was a respectable $145,000, along with Tim Storrier’s Boy’s Own – Flight Home, 2007 (lot 38) at $104,319.

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