NAB to sell 2500-work corporate art collection

Gabriella Coslovich, Australian Financial Review, 18 November 2021

In the week after COP26 came to an end, it’s bitter-sweet that one of Australia’s major banks has announced that it’s selling its $10 million art collection to support projects that will help communities prepare for natural disasters in the face of climate change.

In a sign of shifting priorities, the National Australia Bank is divesting itself of its vast collection of Australian art and will be ploughing the money raised into its philanthropic arm, the NAB Foundation, which provides grants to communities confronting the ever-increasing risk of fires, floods and cyclones. Assembled in the 1970s, the collection features leading Australian artists including John Brack, Fred Williams, John Olsen and Albert Tucker.

Not since beer maker Foster’s sold its art collection in 2005, generating $13.3 million, has such a large corporate collection gone under the hammer. But while the Foster’s auction comprised just 70 high-value paintings, National Australia Bank is selling more 2500 artworks in a series of auctions starting in February next year.

“While the artwork collection has been appreciated for more than 40 years since it was accumulated in the 1970s, it is clearly not core to NAB’s role as a bank and supporting customers,” NAB Group’s Chief Operating Officer, Les Matheson, told Saleroom via email. “The funds raised from the auctions will help the communities and customers we serve with disaster readiness at a critical time for the nation’s economic recovery from COVID-19. Organisations like 1300KOALAZ and Rural Health Connect are recent examples of NAB Ready Together Community Grants recipients and the proceeds of the sale will help us support more organisations like these.”

“We have more than 2,000 works,” Matheson said. “Many of these have been displayed across more than 100 locations around the country, but a [large] number have also remained in storage for many, many years, underlining why this is the right thing to do.” With so much art to sell, two auction houses have been appointed to the job.

Deutscher and Hackett will launch the series, with about 90 highlights from the NAB Collection, worth a total of more than $5 million, being auctioned on February 22. The following night, Leonard Joel will auction a further 150 important works worth a total of more than $1 million. The remaining artworks will be sold by Leonard Joel throughout 2022.