Brett Whiteley treasure at Australian art auction

Author: Richard Brewster | Posted: 8th April, 2024

Brett Whiteley (1939-1992), whose relatively early death deprived the Australian art industry of one its most iconic figures, continues to excite secondary art market buyers each time one of his paintings is offered for auction.

The Wren, 1978 is yet another leading example of his uncanny ability to capture the Australian landscape in all its glory – this time shimmering summer heat that covers rolling hills and valleys near his New South Wales home town of Bathurst.

With a catalogue estimate of $2 million to $3 million, the painting is listed as lot 6 in Deutscher and Hackett’s forthcoming Melbourne auction from 7pm Wednesday April 24 at 105 Commercial Road, South Yarra – in what is billed as an estimated $10.141 to $14.872 million sale.

It is one of three works owned by Australian advertising guru Peter Clemenger – founder of Clemenger BBDO which today is the largest agency group in Australia and New Zealand – and his wife Joan, who died early in 2022.

It is the third time in under three years that Deutscher and Hackett has auctioned paintings from their collection.

The other two are John Brack’s (1920-1999) No More, 1984 (lot 7) and John Perceval’s (1923-2000) The Splash, 1956 (lot 8).

One of Brack’s later works, where he uses inanimate objects instead of people to illustrate the complexity of social interconnections, the pencil painting appears to describe a crowd – perhaps one marching in protest while holding aloft a banner of playing cards that spells out the title.

Although Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay suburb Williamstown is today a thriving tourist attraction, in the mid-1950s it was a rundown graveyard of rusting ship hulks – a scene captured in Perceval’s individualistic painting The Splash.

The auction’s other 52 paintings, owned by various vendors, feature several other major works including the catalogue cover piece Cruach En Mahr, Matin, Belle-Ile-En-Mer, c1905 (lot 11) by John Peter Russell (1858-1930).

A unique participant in Australian art history because of his close association with 1880s Paris avant-garde circles, Russell was a close friend of Vincent Van Gogh and also worked alongside Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Emile Bernard.

In 1886, on a summer break from Paris, Russell spent several months on Belle-Ile, one of a group of small islands off the Brittany coast, where he met and befriended Claude Monet. Under his influence, Russell developed his Impressionist style and used the island as the subject for many of his paintings including the one offered in this auction.  

A significant Charles Blackman (1928-2018) work entitled Which Way, Which Way? 1956 (lot 10) is another collecting gem – while Whiteley features once more with his confronting Bather on the Sand, 1975-76 (lot 9).

Blackman created an entire series of Alice in Wonderland paintings, based on Lewis Carroll’s book of the same name. This one was painted during his legally blind wife Barbara’s pregnancy which at the time brought with it several emotional difficulties.

During his career, Whiteley constantly used nudes as an integral part of his work and Bather on the Sand is one of his most famous paintings.

One of Australia’s greatest 20th century landscape painters, Russell Drysdale (1912-1981) used children with great effect to illustrate the country’s rugged landscape.

The Dancing Children, c1971 (lot 15) was included in a 1972 London solo exhibition at Leicester Galleries alongside other important works by the same artist such as The Mourner, 1968 and Grandma’s Sunday Walk, 1972 (both in private collections) – all of which struck a chord with the city’s audiences.

Rupert Bunny (1864-1947) is another early 20th century household name and his painting At the Pump, c1908 (lot13), shown with several of his later paintings in March 1917 at his Galeries Georges Petit in Paris exhibition, sits alongside his other great masterpieces of that year in what is described as examples of special artistic brilliance.

From the 1920s, Margaret Preston (1875-1963) became one of Australia’s most progressive modernist painters but Anemones, 1916 (lot 12) is from an equally important, earlier period where the London-based artist explored Post-Impressionist principles of colour and design.

Celebrated landscape painter John Olsen (1928-2023) also is represented at the auction with River and Wattle, 1982 (lot 18), painted at the height of his powers, along with Lin Onus’s (1948-1996) Yellow Lilies, 1993 (lot 20) for fans of one of Australia’s best known contemporary Aboriginal artists.




36 Gosbell Street

Paddington NSW


Tuesday April 9 to Sunday April 14


105 Commercial Road

South Yarra VIC


Thursday April 18 to Tuesday April 23

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