Renewed interest in neoclassical artist an Australian auction bonus

Author: Richard Brewster | Posted: 11th April, 2023

Melbourne-based Gibson’s Auctions has sparked collector interest in classical art with a painting entitled Egyptian Street Scene (lot 47) by Italian neoclassical painter Fabio Fabbi (1861-1946) – recognised as the last of the Orientalists.

With a catalogue estimate of $30,000-$50,000, the painting is a highlight of Gibson’s first Australian & International art auction for 2023 from 12pm Sunday April 16 at 885-889 High Street, Armadale.

Fabbi was born in Bologna, not far from Florence – the heart of Italy’s liberal arts and artistic production – where he studied at the Academy of Fine Art, excelling as a classical sculptor and painter.

In 1886, Fabbi journeyed to Egypt to join his brother Alberto, revelling in the foreign and exotic scenery, tastes, colours and scents that later influenced his paintings.

Purchased in the 1950s and by descent in a private Brisbane collection, the auction painting is reminiscent of this Egyptian journey and a great example of his work as a master of Italian Orientalism.

Interest in Fabbi’s works has escalated recently with the discovery of the artist’s lost journals describing his Egyptian journeys.

Gibson’s auction contains several single-owner collections including one by Helen Nixon (lots 66-73), Clifton Pugh’s tax consultant and friend who amassed several of the artist’s paintings from his twilight years, not long before he died in 1990.

One is a portrait of Helen (lot 66) painted in 1988 and another Landscape Reflections with Wattle 1985 (lot 67).

Paintings in the collection were as payment for her services and are in contrast to his earlier dark and pessimistic works, with Landscape Reflections in particular a testament to Pugh’s passion and love for the natural world.

The Robert Law collection (lots 140-155), diligently preserved and handed down through three generations is another auction highlight as it contains early works by Walter Withers (1854-1914), John Mather (1848-1916), Arthur Merric Boyd (1862-1940) and Blamire Young (1862-1935).  

Coastal Farm by Withers is lot 142, with several by Boyd including Boats at Low Tide 1892 (lot 140), Mt Saint George, Lorne 1908 by Mather (lot 146) and The Hay Collector by Young (lot 152).

Indigenous works are a strong sale feature – particularly the more than three-metre wide work entitled Grandfather’s Country 2017 by Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri (lot 121) and paintings by Emily Kame Kngwarreye (c1909-1996) including My Country circa 1994 (lot 117).

Impressive are a series of paintings (lots 160-167) by Charles Gray Kennaway (1860-1925) including Sir Walter Scott (lot 161) and heroines from his novels.

Kennaway was born in Perth, Scotland and studied for seven years at London’s Royal College of Art and at age 32 was appointed principal of Glasgow’s Athenaeum School.

In the early 1900s, he and his Danish wife established an artists’ colony at Dinan and he exhibited widely at major United Kingdom art exhibitions.

Kennaway died on a holiday to visit family in Perth during which time he installed a series of painted panels showing Sir Walter Scott novel heroines in the city’s Kennaway Tea Rooms.

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