No substitiute for quality in Australian art auction market

When quality Australian paintings hit the art auction market it is no surprise that buyers will clamber over each other to get a piece of the action.

And so it proved for Deutscher and Hackett’s Melbourne sale of the 100 highlights of superannuation giant Cbus collection of Australian art – assembled by art legend the late Dr Joseph Brown between 1992 and 2007.

Ninety-five per cent of the works sold, with six new artist records established along the way.

Although not a record, Sidney Nolan’s Crossing the River, 1964 (lot 31) – one of his many depictions of infamous Australian bushranger Ned Kelly – was at the top of the tree.

At $880,000 ($1.1 million including buyer’s premium), the painting was well above its $600,000-$800,000 catalogue estimate and the sixth highest price ever paid for a Ned Kelly painting.

However, particularly pleasing was Margaret Preston’s Coastal Gums, also known as Australian Gum Blossom, 1929 (lot 21) that was the subject of intense bidding and finally knocked down for a new artist record of $500,000 – surpassing by more than 20 per cent the previous $410,000 figure set last year by Bonhams.

Likewise, Godfrey Miller’s Trees in Quarry, c1952-56 (lot 30) at $380,000 doubled both his previous auction record and the catalogue estimate of $150,000-$200,000.

It was a similar story for many of the other paintings in the auction, beginning with Lot 1, Eugene von Guerard’s colonial work On the American Creek near Woolongong, c1859-1861 which raced to $180,000 (on a $80,000-$120,000) before being knocked down.

Conrad Martens is another popular colonial candidate. Regarded as Australia’s first professional artist and with his paintings now rarely seen on the secondary market, Tahlee, Port Stephens, NSW, 1841 or 1842 (lot 3) sold for $100,000 well above its $60,000-$80,000 estimate.

Tom Roberts was another early Australian artist to strike gold and Portrait of a Girl, 1909 (lot 9) swapped owners for a hammer price of $140,000 – while one of Australia’s leading modern artists Russell Drysdale recorded a solid $350,000 result for The Fossicker, 1949 (lot 28) and another, Arthur Boyd, an impressive $500,000 for Shoalhaven Riverbanks and Large Stones, 1981 (lot 38).

William Delafield Cook continues to excel at auction and his Hillside, Ellerson, 1990 (lot 44) was no exception – knocked down for $370,000 on a $150,000-$200,000 estimate.

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