Jeffrey Smart sets tone in Australian art auction

Author: Richard Brewster | Posted: 17th March, 2023

Several Jeffrey Smart (1921-2013) paintings feature among works by Australia’s top artists in what are undoubted drawcards for Menzies forthcoming art auction from 6.30pm Wednesday March 29 at 1 Darling Street, South Yarra.

The highest estimate work is Bus by the Tiber 1977-78 (lot 18), an oil on canvas that first appeared in 1980 in Rudy Komon Art Gallery in Sydney and carries a $600,000-$700,000 catalogue estimate.

Other Smart works in the sale include First Study for Waiting for the Hovercraft, Boulogne 1986-87 (lot 12) and Study for the Petrol Station 1975 (lot 15).

Each carry healthy respective catalogue estimates of $100,000-$150,000 and $80,000-$120,000.

Sydney Morning Herald art columnist and author of Jeffrey Smart: Paintings of the ‘70s and ‘80s John McDonald has written the accompanying catalogue essays for each of the paintings.

In the essay on Bus by the Tiber, he describes the painting as a severely geometric picture that hints at one of Smart’s occasional spoofs on abstract art.

To support this, McDonald observes that the white lines laid out in maze-like fashion on the grey road seem utterly mystifying when the viewer pauses to wonder how they are supposed to regulate the traffic.

McDonald claims, despite one or two figures visible on the bus, there is no human dimension to the painting and it is purely a matter of form, colour and composition.

Fred Williams (1927-1982) Australian Landscape I 1969 (lot 16) is another massive auction highlight with an investment-like estimate of $400,000-$600,000.

Having passed through several owners since it was painted and now in a private Melbourne collection, Australian Landscape I is part of a series of works that represent a distillation of the vastness and emptiness of the outback, traits that could easily expand to engulf the entire continent – according to McDonald’s accompanying catalogue essay.

There are plenty of other works to interest auction goers – not the least being Tim Storrier’s The Night (Chrome Tap) 2008 (lot 17) – a typical version of his pared back Australian landscape scene, Brett Whiteley’s (1939-1992) View from the Window, Lavender Bay 1977 (lot 14) and John Coburn’s White Bird c1974 (lot 13).

Many other famous Australian painters are treading the auction floorboards in this sale including William Robinson with Farm II 1982 (lot 31) – estimated at $200,000-$300,000 – from Sydney-based Thomas and Eva Breuer’s collection.

The painting is one of a series entitled Farmyard that Robinson painted once he and his wife Shirley moved in November 1970 from their suburban Brisbane home to a small farm at Birkdale on the city’s outskirts.

Another painting from the Breuer collection is Sidney Nolan’s Landscape with Camel (Burke and Wills) 1966 (lot 30), with a $180,000-$250,000 catalogue estimate, that no doubt will attract a lot of attention.

The painting marks the events leading up the end of the perilous Burke and Wills 1860-61 inland expedition when a party of 19 men under their leadership was organised to chart Australia’s inland from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Newly imported from northern India and Afghanistan, camels were a vital addition to the expedition during which seven men including Robert O’Hara Burke and William John Wills died without ever reaching their destination.

The last two camels to accompany the doomed explorers, Landa and Rajah, are recurring subjects in Nolan’s 1960s sequence of Burke and Wills paintings.

Other artists to feature include Cressida Campbell with Gumnuts and Hyacinths 1990 (lot 4) and On the Mantelpiece (lot 53) and Ben Quilty with Sleepless (Kenny) 2018 (lot 54).

Tim Maguire is another well-known Australian artist in the sale with Untitled 94 1994 (lot 36) featuring one of his signature flower paintings.

A perennial favourite is still life exponent Margaret Olley (1923-2011) with Columbines 1962 (lot 3).




12 Todman Avenue



Friday March 17 to Sunday March 19


1 Darling Street

South Yarra


Thursday March 23 to Tuesday March 28

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