Gallery benefactor art collection treasured at auction
Author: Richard Brewster | Posted: 17th November, 2016
Highlights of an art collection by the late John Cunningham – who left the largest ever bequest to the Art Gallery of New South Wales – will be auctioned by Bonhams as part of its Important Australian and Aboriginal Art sale from 6.30pm Tuesday November 22 at NCJWA Hall 111 Queen Street, Woollahra in Sydney.
A stockbroker by profession and not one to seek public recognition, art lover Cunningham – who died in January last year – made his first bequest (more than $5 million) to the gallery in 2003 after reading that it was borrowing to buy a $700,000 Russell Drysdale painting because the NSW State Government had stopped funding acquisitions.
Rather than make a public fuss, he simply contacted the gallery’s head of philanthropy Jane Wynter to find out how he could best help the organisation acquire similar works of art in the future.
When he died, Cunningham left 60 per cent of his estate, about $15 million, to the gallery’s foundation, which only funds art purchases.
The auction collection includes works by many of Australia’s best-known artists including Russell Drysdale, Lloyd Rees, Emmanuel Phillips Fox, Rupert Bunney, Ethel Carrick Fox, Arthur Streeton, Margaret Olley, Donald Friend, Arthur Boyd, Jeffrey Smart, Albert Tucker, Roy De Maistre and William Dobell.
Two of the more valuable works (carrying the highest catalogue estimates of $200,000-$300,000) are Streeton’s Melba’s Country, 1936 and Smart’s Second Study for the Plastic Tube, 1980.
Melba’s Country is one of Streeton’s great panoramic landscapes, which he painted over five decades from the 1889 to the late 1930s, and in it can be seen the influence of Romantic poets Wordsworth, Keats and Shelley.
Smart’s painting captures the tension between the inanimate yet dynamic tube and the stillness of the figure controlling it.
Other paintings of note in the auction include Margaret Olley’s Mallee Blue Gumnuts, 1989, Arthur Boyd’s Harkaway, View from the Grange, 1948 and Roy De Maistre’s Studio Interior.
The John Cunningham auction will be followed by the sale of Aboriginal and other art, including works from the estate of Sydney photographer David Moore.
Viewing is at Bonhams 97-99 Queen Street, Woollahra and at NCJWA Hall