Australian icons auction paintings to send collectors into a spin

Author: Richard Brewster | Posted: 26th August, 2022

Seven highly valuable paintings from the collections of two icons of Australian media and advertising should really send art collectors and investors into a spin when Deutscher and Hackett holds its important Australian and International Fine Art auction from 7pm September 14 at its Sydney 36 Gosbell Street, Paddington venue.

The paintings – owned by founder of Australia’s largest advertising agency group Clemenger BBDO Peter Clemenger, and his wife Joan, and media mogul the late Reg Grundy (1923-2016) and his actress wife Joy Chambers-Grundy – comprise the first seven lots in a sale of 83 works.

Each painting is fascinating in its own right – from the Clemenger-owned Brett Whiteley’s (1939-1992) Self-portrait, 1977 (lot 1) to Grundy’s Rosalie Gascoigne (1917-1999) Autumn, 1989 work (lot 7).

Of special note is Jeffrey Smart’s (1921-2013) painting entitled Portrait of Germaine Greer, 1984 (lot 2), which is listed with a catalogue estimate of $1 million to $1.5 million. It also is owned by the Clemengers, who are widely recognised for their passion for the arts and generous philanthropy.

Some might say an unusual subject for Smart to choose given that for many people the outspoken author of The Female Eunuch published in 1970 was a controversial figure.

Smart has portrayed the then 45-year-old Greer sitting stiffly on a chair as if posing for snapshot, wearing a conservative top and long blue skirt and clutching her leather handbag.

A giant capital R spray painted on the wall behind Greer dominates the painting, which Smart described as a “lovely bit of graffiti” but filmmaker Bruce Beresford believes stood for “ratbag”.

Smart’s willingness to paint the portraits of well-known Australians, such as writer David Malouf, artist the late Margaret Olley, journalist and broadcaster the late Clive James, Beresford and his own partner Ermes de Zan, followed the monitoring of his ageing visage through a series of self-portraits every five to 10 years.

Although in the early 1980s Smart and Greer were close friends, dining at each other’s Tuscan homes and mixing in the same circles, she complained the work was not like her and refused to pose further after he completed a pencil study of her face. Instead, Smart used a friend as a body double to complete the painting.

Whatever Smart’s reason for portraying Greer as a prim and proper soul and not the abrasive fire brand for which she is renowned, Malouf believes the painting comes close to capturing the sitter’s personality.

The highest estimate painting, at $1.6 million to $2 million, is Fred Williams (1927-1982) Lysterfield Landscape, 1968-69 (lot 3) – another Clemenger possession.  

This work is recognised as a masterpiece from the peak of Williams’ career and is a testament to his legacy as one of the most visionary painters of his era.

A marvellous Williams quote from the time stated that “I see things in terms of paint, all else is irrelevant.”

This was a reference  to his sharpness of observation and alertness to subtle inflections that defined his pictorial syntax, according to the catalogue essay.

The last of the Clemenger paintings is John Brack’s (1920-1999) Posies, 1990 (lot 4) – like his earlier works the result of intense preparation and meticulous technique and is listed at a $600,000-$800,000 estimate in the catalogue.  

The three Grundy paintings include Ian Fairweather’s (1891-1974) Gamelan, 1958 (lot 5) – painted five years after he settled on Bribie Island off Queensland’s coast, living in primitive conditions in two huts built using materials obtained from the surrounding bush.

Born in Scotland and educated at London’s Slade School of Fine Art, Fairweather spent many years in Australia and also travelled extensively through Canada, China, Bali and the Philippines.

Although the painting’s title refers to the traditional Indonesian percussion orchestra, it is not a representational depiction but probably recognition of the happy times he spent on Bali. 

Brack’s Elastic Stockings, 1965 (lot 6) is the result of his fascination with shops and window displays during times he walked Melbourne streets, particularly after he was appointed head of the city’s National Gallery School in 1962.

The paintings can be viewed in Melbourne from 11am-6pm Thursday September 1 to Sunday September 4 at 105 Commercial Road, South Yarra before heading to Sydney.

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