Australian art auction features famous abstract artist
Author: Richard Brewster | Posted: 9th November, 2018
An untitled work (lot 58) painted in 1941 by Ralph Balson (1890-1964) carries the highest catalogue estimate at Bonhams forthcoming Important Australian Art auction from 6pm Wednesday November 14 at 36-40 Queen Street, Woollahra in Sydney.
Coming direct from the artist’s estate to a private Sydney collection, the painting carries an estimate of $250,000-$350,000.
The year it was painted, the work was part of Balson’s solo exhibition of 21 paintings at the Fine Art Galleries in Anthony Horden’s George Street, Sydney department store.
Organised with the help of his friend and mentor Grace Cowley, the 1941 exhibition was later acknowledged as the first solo exhibition of totally abstract art in Australia.
Its reception at the time by a conservative and parochial Sydney audience was largely one of scorn – one critic dismissing the works as purely decorative.
If anything, according to art critic Dr Candice Bruce, they were the opposite – showing a sophisticated understanding of international Cubism.
This particular auction work seems to reflect the age of war: the browns and royal blues and maroons of uniforms, with touches of green, black and metallic gold, she says.
The sale offers many Australian indigenous paintings and tribal artefacts along with works by several well-known Australian artists.
One of these is entitled Woman on Sofa Reading a Book, c1980 (lot 3), an ink on paper work by one of Australia’s most influential artists Brett Whiteley – originally from his daughter Arkie’s collection.
Sculptor Robert Klippel is represented with Opus 172, Metal Construction, 1963 (lot 11) – while two of the more interesting Aboriginal works are Bush Tucker Story, 1972 (lot 18) by Long Jack Phillipus Tjakamarra and Big Corroboree, 1972 (lot 19) by Timmy Payungka Tjapangati.
Fiona Foley’s Badtjala Women, 1994 (lot 24) are three sepia-toned photographs that were acquired by a private Sydney collector from Melbourne’s Niagara Galleries.
They have been exhibited twice in Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art, which along with Brisbane’s Queensland Art Gallery still holds related works.
The series is based on colonial images of Badtjala people, whose country includes Fraser Island, taken by an ethnographic photographer around 1899.
Howard Arkley is represented in the auction through several paintings including Colour Study, 1987 (lot 31) while one of Aboriginal artist Rover Thomas’s (1926-1998) more important works Untitled (The Serpents – Juntarkal and Wungurr), 1987 (lot 38) carries a $180,000-$250,000 catalogue estimate.
Another interesting painting is Impending Events, 1994 by James Gleeson (lot 40) along with Richard Larter’s LCH 1, 1963 (lot 60).
Other artists to feature in the auction include Dorrit Black, Norman Lindsay, Elioth Gruner, John Coburn, David Larwill and Herbert Badham.