Two weeks on from a successful Melbourne Art Fair and yet another sign of an art market on the mend emerged last night when Sotheby’s Australia held their Important Australian and International Art sale in Melbourne. An encouraging total of $6.3 million, which equates to 98% sold by value, and a sold by lot rate of 68%, indicates that buyers are more than willing to pay top dollar for the right work.
A painting by Arthur Boyd titled Bride Running Away (1957) stole the show and set a new auction record for the artist after determined bidders pushed the hammer price to $1,400,000 against an estimate of $1,400,000-$1,600,000. Eclipsing the previous auction record of $1,200,000 which was set in August 2011 by another work from the artist’s Bridegroom series, Bride Running Away is one of the most important paintings from Boyd’s oeuvre. The fact that the painting had not been seen on the market for more than 40 years, and had not previously been sold at auction, made it even more desirable.
The first lot of the sale was one of the biggest surprises of the night fetching a hammer price of $180,000 - more than two times the $70,000 estimate. Painted by an artist known only as “The Sydney Bird Painter”, the watercolour of a Hook-Billed Shrike (Grey Butcher Bird) circa 1792 most likely went to a cultural institution considering that other works attributed to the artist/s are included in the collections of the State Library of New South Wales, the National Gallery of Australia and the National Gallery of Victoria among others.
The much hyped Brett Whiteley paintings repatriated from a Spanish collection failed to live up to expectations with only one finding a buyer at a hammer price of $75,000 against an estimate of $80,000 to $100,000. Another, more typical and fresh to auction Whiteley painting titled The Dove in the Mango Tree did exceed expectations achieving a hammer price of $660,000 against an estimate of $550,000-$650,000.
A year and a half since the Art Gallery of New South Wales held a major retrospective of the work of Australian painter Justin O’Brien (1917-1996) and a new auction record was set for the artist when Boy in a Turkish Cap (1958) blitzed the $35,000-$45,000 estimate with a hammer price of $92,000.
O’Brien was the inaugural winner of the Blake Prize for Religious Art in 1951 and his painting The raising of Lazarus was acquired by the Vatican. He is best known for his colourful and exuberant depictions of religious themes inspired by his biblical knowledge and the faith from which he had drifted and to which he later returned.
More traditional paintings in the $20,000-$40,000 estimate range proved particularly popular with several of the works offered at this price point reaching well beyond their given estimate. Hans Heysen’s watercolour Gums and Cliffs, Murray River sold for $32,000 against an estimate of $18,000-$25,000; Tom Roberts’ The South Wind fetched $60,000 against an estimate of $20,000 - $30,000 while a small oil painting of the Yarra Flats by William Ford doubled its high estimate with a hammer price of $50,000.