British artist surprises auction goers

In what undoubtedly surprised many auction goers, British painter Cedric Morris’s (1889-1982) modest little work July Flowers and Wood Warblers sold for $287,500 (including buyer’s premium) – almost 24 times its upper catalogue estimate of $12,000 – at Menzies Melbourne auction on August 10.

This was a new world record for Morris who, at the time he completed the work in the 1920s, was living in rural Suffolk and painted richly decorative flower studies.

Despite the perceived shock among Australian collectors, Menzies specialists had been forewarned of the interest in the painting through the dozens of inquiries, mainly from United Kingdom buyers, in the weeks leading up to the auction.

The bidding opened at $20,000 but escalated rapidly to $100,000 following massive interest from telephone, internet and room bidders.

One London-based collector joined the fray at $180,000 and bid confidently until successful at the hammer fall of $230,000.

Total auction sales were $5,177, 307 (IBP) with clearance rates of 76 per cent by volume and 74 per cent by value.

Although the auction’s priciest work (Brett Whiteley’s The Paddock – Late Afternoon) failed to reach the $1.6 million lower estimate, a bid of $1.4 million was referred to the vendor for consideration.

However, his quaint 1957 oil Corner of Hunter and Philip Streets (lot 1) set the auction rolling when it changed hands for $22,000 against an estimate of $15,000-$20,000.

Storm Approaching made its first appearance since being exhibited in 1980 at the Robin Gibson Gallery and continued Whiteley’s golden run.

Consigned by a Canadian collector, the mixed media work sold for $165, 682 (IBP), almost twice its upper catalogue estimate.

Other Whiteley paintings happily went under the hammer for solid, if unspectacular, prices including Table on Fruit 1978 for $515,455 (IBP) and Nude c1978 for $85,909 (IBP).

Frederick McCubbin’s large and lush Pastoral scene from 1904, featured on the catalogue cover, sold to an interstate telephone bidder for its low estimate of $500,000 ($613,636 IBP).

The work had remained in the same Melbourne family since its acquisition in 1971 for $6000 at Leonard Joel.

A range of private and institutional clients showed interest in Sidney Nolan’s Swamp 1947 – a forlorn yet exquisite Fraser Island scene.

The painting was shown in 1948 Nolan’s inaugural Brisbane exhibition along with examples which now reside in the Queensland Art Gallery and Art Gallery of New South Wales.

When the hammer fell at $85,000 after spirited bidding, a London-based collector had prevailed over local competition.

Other successful sales included Ethel Carrick Fox’s romantic and evocative Chioggia, Statue of the Madonna, Venice ($30,000 hammer price) and Arthur Streeton’s Venice Canal ($28,000).

Another Australian Impressionist work – Alfred Coffey’s A Veil of Bushfire Smoke – went under the hammer for $22,000 ($12,000-$18,000 estimate) to a determined phone bidder.

Among the contemporary works on offer, Bronwyn Oliver’s Spiral V – a 2002 commission for its American owner – realised $220,209 (IBP), the seventh highest recorded auction price for the artist, and Queenslander Danie Mellor’s A Point of Order (New World from Old Power) set a new artist auction record at $41,727 (IBP). 

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