Important Australian art auction as Menzies tests collector market

Author: Richard Brewster | Posted: 30th June, 2020

After holding its first auction for 2020 in February, like many other Australian auction houses Menzies was obliged to hold off on its next Australian & International Fine Art & Sculpture sale until the deadly conditions caused by the coronavirus pandemic that swept the globe improved nationally.

Although the crisis is far from over in many other countries – and Australia is still facing troublesome hotspots with lockdowns in some Melbourne suburbs – Menzies is preparing for its forthcoming July 9 sale from 6.30pm at 12 Todman Avenue, Kensington in Sydney.

Only a select, but committed group of buyers, will be physically attending the sale. The remainder will either be bidding online or on the phone.

Menzies is excited about the outcome for, after Smith & Singer’s recent Sydney sale that grossed $6,620,940, this will be one of the early major art sales to test the investment and collector waters after COVID-19 lockdown restrictions have begun to ease.

Like many of Menzies sales, this forthcoming auction features an important cross-section of Australian art with works by some of the most significant artists to ever come out of the country.

Typical of the offerings is a radiant still life painting by Grace Cossington Smith (1892-1984) entitled Jug with Fruit in the Window 1960 (lot 28) which is featured on the sale catalogue front cover and aptly demonstrates how the humble domestic interior may prove an abundant source of artistic inspiration.

Regarded as one of the leading artists of her generation, Cossington Smith remains one of Australia’s most valuable female artists.

Acquired in the late 1970s from Melbourne’s Joseph Brown Gallery (much of his collection is now housed in the National Gallery of Victoria), the painting has remained for the past 40 years in the same private collection.

With pre-sale estimate of $300,000-$400,000, Jug with Fruit in the Window is arguably Cossington Smith’s most important work to be offered in the past five years at auction.

A major oil painting by Charles Blackman (1928-2018) entitled Boats at Williamstown 1956 (lot 26) with a catalogue estimate of $200,000-$300,000 is another significant auction work.

Art specialist Tim Abdallah believes the painting and it subject  – from the most highly sought after period for Blackman (that of his Alice in Wonderland series) – makes it a compelling collection piece.

Williamstown has been a fascinating subject for some of Australia’s leading artists – including Frederick McCubbin, Arthur Boyd and John Perceval – making it the Australian equivalent of the Mount Sainte Victoire motif in French art.

Lot 31, called Mandiginingi, is a great exposition for Aboriginal artist Lin Onus (1948-1996). With a similar estimate to the Blackman work, the painting depicts three crocodiles underwater with Onus’s signature layering of style drawn from both his indigenous heritage and Western art.

John Perceval’s (1923-2000) confronting Boy Crying in Carlton Street 1944 (lot 24) has an impressive exhibition history and no doubt will be keenly sought after by auction goers.

There are many other significant works in the 102-lot catalogue including Outside the Ministry 1970 (lot 27) by Jeffrey Smart (1921-2013), which was originally exhibited at London’s Leicester Galleries.

Brett Whiteley’s (1939-1992) Kurrajong 1981 is a fine example of his lyrical works in a less common vertical format.

The painting carries a catalogue estimate of $700,000-$900,000 and, perhaps in a sign of its popularity, over the past nine years has appeared regularly at Menzies auctions.

Garry Shead, Russell Drysdale, Tim Storrier, Sally Gabori, David Boyd, Rosalie Gascoigne and Robert Klippel are other artists to feature prominently.

Their auction works include The Queen in Australia 1999 (lot 25), Half-Caste Woman (also known as Portrait) 1961 (lot 30), Evening Fire Line 1999 (lot 33), Explorer Thrown 1957 (lot 35) and Attica 1995 (lot 32).

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