Some art auction records are just not meant to be

Pundits were predicting an artist auction record for Del Kathryn Barton’s painting Openly Song 2014 (lot 33) – featured on the catalogue cover at Menzies first auction for 2020 on February 27 in Melbourne.

However, it was not to be as the price with buyer’s premium of $282,273 fell well short of the record of $378,200 for Of Pollen set by Sotheby’s Australia in 2018.

Barton’s painting was not the only work to not measure up to pre-auction expectations with Brett Whiteley’s major work Gaugin 1968 (lot 37) – painted in the Chelsea Hotel in New York when he was at his peak – attracting a top bid of $1,350,000 against an understood estimate of $2-$2.5 million.

Other big name Australian artists, including John Kelly, Garry Shead, Charles Blackman, William Robinson and Roger Kemp also failed to generate much buyer interest on the night.

 Unlike the current world stock market uncertainty in the face of the increasing escalation of the coronavirus, however, it was not all gloom and doom as Jeffrey Smart’s Conversation Piece 1998 (lot 36) and John Brack’s Reclining Nude 1980 (lot 35) were well supported – respectively changing hands for $981,818.18 and $564,545.45.  

Artist auction records were set for three paintings – Adam Cullen’s Untitled (Ned Kelly) (lot 23 - $49,090), Robert Malherbe’s Large View of the Domain 2015 (lot 10 - $10,431.82) and Reko Rennie’s Bora (Big Red Fuschia) 2009 (lot 20) and Bora (Big Red Blue) 2009 (lot 21) -each for $15,954.95 and both bought by the same buyer.

Likewise, one of Australia’s top Aboriginal artists, Emily Kamer Kngwarreye’s painting Bush Yam Dreaming 1994 (lot 42) attracted plenty of attention and sold for $98,181.82, auguring well for the future of the Aboriginal art market.

Other works to do well on the night included Fred McCubbin’s Cottage, Trees and Children 1907 (lot 7 - $58,909.09), well above its $35,000 catalogue estimate.  

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