Record for Streeton Masks Cautious Australian Art Market

Record for Streeton Masks Cautious Australian Art Market
ARTHUR STREETON (1867 – 1943) SETTLER'S CAMP, 1888 oil on canvas 86.5 x 112.5 cm signed and dated lower right: Arthur Streeton 88
(image courtesy Deutscher and Hackett)

The Deutscher and Hackett (D and H) May 2nd Important Australian + International Fine Art Auction catalogue was a fine piece of engineering that appears to have been constructed to produce maximum effect with minimal risk.

A sale total of $5,532,870, 72% sold by volume, 93% sold by value and a new auction record for Arthur Streeton, which was also the sixth highest price paid for a work of art at auction in Australia, would suggest a very successful sale and a strong market.  Further analysis, however, paints a very different picture.

On the one hand, Streeton’s amazing painting Settler’s Camp from 1888 sold for $2,520,000 against an estimate of $1,000,000 – 1,500,000 producing not only a new auction record for the iconic Australian artist but also the highest price for a work of art at auction in Australia so far this year.

Much like Munch’s The Scream, Streeton’s Settler’s Camp is the sort of iconic work that would likely achieve a high price in Australia regardless of the state of the art market.

Last sold at auction in 1985 when it fetched $800,000, the $1,000,000 - 1,500,000 estimate given to Settler’s Camp this time round seems a little on the low side and was perhaps used to entice bidders in a market that is less than exuberant.

On the other hand, four of the top lots of the sale adding up to a combined low estimate total of $1,090,000 failed to sell including John Brack’s U and I which had the second highest estimate of the sale at $500,000 - 600,000.

Other significant failures included Charles Blackman’s Alice ($160,000 – 200,000 estimate), Lloyd ReesTuscany ($180,000 – 220,000 estimate) and John Perceval’s Wheatfield and Potato Diggers ($250,000 – 350,000 estimate).  Works by the usually popular contemporary artists Tim Maguire and Del Kathryn Barton also were passed-in.

The lack of interest shown in the top modern and contemporary lots of the auction - a signal that the Australian art market is experiencing a period of caution and conservatism – left Streeton as the undoubted hero of the auction producing all three of the top three prices of the auction and the only three prices over $100,000.

Streeton’s, The Harbour from Mosman, sold for a $516,000 against an estimate of $350,000 – 450,000 one lot after the artist’s Sirius Cove sold for $312,000 against an estimate of $250,000 – 350,000.

Other successful works of the sale included Elioth Gruner’s Spring Mist which fetched $68,400 against an estimate of $30,000 – 40,000, Norman Lindsay’s bronze sculpture Balinese Dancer which sold for $66,000 against an estimate of $25,000 – 35,000 and a Grace Cossington Smith gouache titled Waratah that made $31,200 against an estimate of $10,000 – 15,000.

The two important modernist Indian paintings in the School of Paris style by Jehangir Sabavala (1922 – 2011) as discussed in a previous Artinfo Australia article made $90,000 and $56,400 against respective estimates of $80,000 – 120,000 and $30,000 – 40,000.