This is a wonderful result, not only for the vendors and Bonhams Australia, but for the art market at large and the local and international buyers (the collection was previewed by approx. 10,000 people in London, Sydney and Melbourne) who have acquired some exceptional examples of Australian art.
Post GFC, we have been in a commercial vacuum, with many stores closing down including art galleries across the country. The art market has been sluggish with people generally holding onto their savings in times of recurrent global economic and political uncertainty.
Traditionally, interest in art as an investment increases when the stock market is erratic due to the perceived steadiness and longevity of the investment. Quashed as the market has been in recent years, art remains one of those items that is multi-dimensional for many buyers – it provides pleasure and gives a home atmosphere and character, and it can also provide a very sound financial investment.
As such, it was a pure delight witnessing the competitive bidding at the Grundy sale and seeing some iconic paintings go under the hammer, fetching from $4,800 (Peter Powditch) to $1.85 million (Fred Williams) and everything in between.
I must say that this sale was not for the uninitiated – the majority of works were estimated above $30,000 and many more above the $200,000 mark. Several works sold for over a million and I am sure that at least one public art institution acquired works in addition to the corporate and private collectors.
Several interesting outcomes were realised – one as I have already mentioned was the competitive bidding that turns any auction from a dud into a triumph. Few works were passed in and the majority achieved prices well over their lower estimates. The buyer sitting next to me for example, who had travelled from interstate for the sale, bid $550,000 (plus 22% buyer’s premium/BP) against a lower estimate of $350,000 for the only Jeffrey Smart in the sale. I was keen to see what this typically photorealistic piece would fetch given the artist’s passing just last week.
Other exceptional results from the 90-lot sale were Fred Williams’ You Yangs Landscape 1, 1963, which realised $2,287,000 including BP and went to a private collector. This was in fact a new price record for Williams, one of 12 new artist records set on the night.
The highlight of the night, in my opinion, was John Brack, one of the most collectable and revered Australian artists. His fabulous 1950s work, The New House, 1953 sold for $1,952,000 (including BP) – a wonderful ‘Mad Men’ antecedent) and The Breakfast Table, 1958 sold for $1,464,000 against an estimate of only $500,000-700,000.
It was also interesting to see that traditional and early modern works achieve so much interest. Many of my clients, particularly those in the their 30s and 40s, follow contemporary art and focus on larger, newer works for the same money you would pay for an established (or dead) artist. However, here it was the blue chip and well-known artists that soared to exceptional heights and the contemporary works that garnered more subdued interest.
I also want to mention the women artists who featured in the sale. Margaret Preston’s beautiful Native Honeysuckle, 1933 achieved a new price record of $380,000 hammer ($463,000 including BP) as did Rosalie Gascoigne’s Sunflowers, 1991 ($500,000 hammer/$610,000 BP).
The two women’s works could not be more different, Preston painting in the muted tones typical of the 30s with her love for native Australian flora and bold outlines, and Gascoigne using found objects to create new and colourful modern assemblages.
Hopefully the success of this unique sale will herald an upward turn for the Australian art market and encourage art buyers to look both towards the past and present when assembling comprehensive and engaging art collections.
Art Dealer, Consultant and Valuer