Smart prices, big names drive late-season art sales

Gabriella Coslovich, Australian Financial Review, 2 December 2021

In December, the art auction circuit traditionally winds down. But these are far from typical times and this December the market is steaming ahead with back-to-back sales in an action-packed week before the year wraps up.

Next Monday, Smith & Singer will privately auction a major Del Kathryn Barton painting three weeks after having set a new record for the artist at its November sale. Barton’s linger on, 2019, has the same pre-sale estimate as Wild Carrot Dream, 2015, which marked a new auction high when the hammer fell at $330,000 last month.

On Tuesday, Leski Auctions puts the profusely eclectic Gary and Genevieve Morgan collection of profusely eclectic Gary and Genevieve Morgan collection of Australiana under the hammer. And on Wednesday, Deutscher and Hackett holds the last major art auction of the year, featuring two important private collections, one from Melbourne and distinctly modern, the other from Adelaide and exuberantly traditional.

“End of November auctions are usually it for the year and everyone is exhausted, the collecting audience and the auction house staff, but this year has been insanely different,” says Deutscher and Hackett’s Melbourne executive director Chris Deutscher.

“When we started viewing the November auction after the lockdowns it was like it was the first auction of the year. People were so excited to see art in the flesh again, so this year we can extend the auction season to December and people are still interested.”

The Deutscher and Hackett December sale is a neat 43 lots with a total estimate of $3.9 million to $5.1 million. The first eight lots are from the Melbourne collection and include three sculptures by international artists Henry Moore, Fernando Botero and Philippe Hiquily.

The Columbian painter and sculptor Botero is known for his extravagantly rotund figures, and this is the first time that a substantial work by the artist is being auctioned here. His glossy bronze, Reclining Woman (Donna Sdraiata), 2009, which measures 54.5cm by 27cm by 22cm, has an estimate of $300,000 to $500,000.

French modernist Hiquily takes a wholly different approach to the female form in his sculpture La Marathonienne, an abstract rendering of an athlete that evokes the works of Alexander Calder. Designed in 1981 and cast in 2004, La Marathonienne, which measures 190cm by 127cm by 74cm, has an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. The vendors acquired the steel sculpture, which has a wonderful rust patina, from Galerie des Lices, Saint-Tropez, France, in 2006.

“It’s been in a garden for all its life, and people are coming in to see it because there is such a shortage of garden sculpture coming up at auction,” Deutscher said. “To have something that is playful and international like this is wonderful. It’s good fun for us to throw these things into the auction mix and expand the visual vocabulary.”

In May this year an edition of the Hiquily sculpture sold at Sotheby’s New York for $US201,600 ($282,199), including buyer’s costs.

Jeffrey Smart’s vertigo-inducing The Arezzo Turn-off II, 1973, is the auction cover lot with an estimate of $800,000 to $1.2 million. In April this year, The Arezzo Turn-off I, a horizontally aligned version of the same subject, also from 1973, sold at Smith & Singer for $800,000 (hammer).

Smart’s Madras Airport, 1979, has a much lower estimate of $200,000 to $300,000, but is a charming example of the artist’s mastery at capturing the strange beauty of the built environment. The painting hasn’t been on the market since 1988.

From the same collection, John Perceval’s Old Ships at Williamston, 1959, has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000 and it too was last on the market in 1988. “That will test the market because we have not seen one of that quality come up for a while,” Deutscher said.

The remaining 35 lots are from the Adelaide collection and include works by Frederick McCubbin, Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts, Walter Withers, George Lambert, Rupert Bunny, Nora Heysen, Albert Namatjira and Russell Drysdale.