Top line art works for auction at Menzies

Author: Richard Brewster | Posted: 14th November, 2011

Auction goers who frequent Menzies art sales always expect to gaze upon some of the best paintings Australia has produced – however, this time it is French artist Fernand Leger (1881-1955) who has grabbed the limelight.

Other works in the auction should not disappoint with leading paintings by many of Australia’s leading artists of the past 100 years ready to go under the hammer from 6.30pm Thursday November 22 at 1 Darling Street, South Yarra.

This is the third time in just over three years that Menzies has auctioned the Leger painting China Town 1943, which resided in Paris’s Galerie Louis Carre until bought in 1963 by New York collector Frances Cole at a Sotheby’s London auction.

It was to be more than 50 years before Sotheby’s again handled the painting, which on May 6, 2015 was purchased by a private Melbourne collector and then offered for auction the following month by Menzies where it sold for $2,209,091 including buyer's premium.

China Town 1943, which was created during Leger’s longest American visit, was again offered for auction in February last year by Menzies (sale price $1,840,909) and has been held since in a Victorian company collection.

The visually arresting composition is typical of Leger’s mature oeuvre in the last decade of his life, according to School of Creative Arts head at the University of Melbourne, Associate Professor Ken Wach, writing in the auction catalogue.

The artist moved from Paris to the United States from 1940 to 1945 where he was artistically active as he shifted from Hoboken, Oakland to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, Franconia, Osterville, Washington and New York – where he found inspiration for the auction painting.

“Leger found ready assistance in New York,” Wach said. “This came, most especially, from Nelson Rockefeller, the billionaire President of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and the automotive industrialist Walter Chrysler, President of the Chrysler Motor Corporation and builder of Manhattan’s famed Chrysler Building.”

The Fred Williams (1927-1982) work Hillside II 1968, which also has been offered for auction by Menzies several times in the past 10 years, carries the highest sale estimate ($800,000-$1,000,000) of the Australian paintings.

Wach sees the painting as the culmination of an important five-year long aesthetic development at the end of a crucial period in Williams’s artistic progression and an outstanding example of his move towards pictorial abstraction.

Another important auction work is John Brack’s (1920-1999) Adagio 1967-69.

One of his most challenging 1960s paintings, Brack was seeking a metaphor through which to express human relationships – a stage on which a man and woman could perform.

Executed in 1967, Adagio was exhibited in Canberra, Sydney and South Australia before Brack repainted the background two years later.

In 1987, the work was included in Brack’s major retrospective at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Jeffrey Smart’s Outside the Ministry 1970 is featured on the auction catalogue cover.

From a private collector’s deceased estate, the painting was originally exhibited in 1970 in London’s famous Leicester Galleries before going into private hands.

Ken Wach observes that, unusually, there are no street scenes and no Italian autostrade in the work.

Other artist works to feature in the auction include John Kelly’s Three Cows Stacked 2001, Ian Fairweather’s Fascismo 1963, Sidney Nolan’s Burke and Camel c1966, Charles Blackman’s School Children at Play 1953, Garry Shead’s Queen and Royal Procession II 1997 and Rover Thomas (Julama)’s Cyclone Tracey – Willy Willy 1995.

Collectors also should be interested in American artist Andy Warhol’s (1928-1987) complete set of colour screenprints entitled Muhammad Ali 1978.



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