Russell Drysdale painting ties artist record, sells for $2.4m

Nick Miller, Sydney Morning Herald, 12 November 2020

A painting of a rural family heading off to a night at the movies has tied the record for the sale of a Russell Drysdale work with a hammer price of $2.4 million at auction in Melbourne – just as the city returns to cinemas after the pandemic lockdown.

Drysdale's Going to the pictures, from 1941, had been tipped to set a new record for the influential Australian artist. But it fell just shy at the Deutscher and Hackett auction on Wednesday evening, matching the highest bid for the artist's 1974 Grandma's Sunday Walk which sold in 2017.

Pictures was painted as the artist developed a new visual language for his own - and Australian - art, breaking from the romantic pastoral tradition to depict the countryside with a dash of surrealism and expressionism. The work shows a rural family in a drought-stricken landscape about to leave for the cinema, and employs the artist's typical humour and empathy.

The painting was bought in 1942 by Melbourne art critic Clive Turnbull, and stayed in the same family ever since. It has been exhibited at major galleries in Victoria and NSW.

Art historian Dr Christopher Heathcote had hailed it the most important Drysdale he had seen at auction.

The auction was held entirely online and by phone.

The most enthusiastic bidding at the sale dubbed Twenty Classics of Australian Art was around a print of the classic Max Dupain Sunbaker photograph, and the painting Lads Boxing by Ian Fairweather which saw a highest bid of $520,000, more than twice the catalogue estimate.

A Fred Williams painting titled Hillside at Lysterfield II from 1967 sold for $1.8m.