A spectacular end to a memorable year in the saleroom

Gabriella Coslovich, Australian Financial Review, 16 December 2021

The recognition of women artists, a return to the traditional and a growing interest in prints and multiples are among the trends of this stop-start and yet ultimately successful year in the art auction trade.

If there’s one figure that speaks resoundingly of the market’s strength, it’s that 78 new artists’ records were set (for works above $20,000), more than double that of last year. Of those, 33 were for women, a reflection of a broad cultural shift and public institutions celebrating female artists. Even more remarkable, these records were set amid prolonged lockdowns in the two cities that make the art world tick – Sydney and Melbourne.

Major art auctions came to a standstill for five months during what is typically prime sales time, creating a flurry of activity at year’s end. Despite the hiatus, the market finished stronger than last year, turning over $120 million, a 10 per cent increase on 2020, when the industry first confronted the trials of a pandemic.

“That gap between April and November was finger-nail biting stuff,” says Chris Deutscher, Melbourne executive director of Deutscher and Hackett. “It was a very challenging year, nothing was certain. We were just lucky that the market was so buoyant in early November and continued to be so into early December … it was a year of building frustration that was spectacularly released in four weeks.”

Deutscher and Hackett held its final sale of the year last week, adding another $6.4 million to its coffers, taking the company to pole position for the second consecutive year. Of this year’s records, 31 were made at Deutscher and Hackett, with two set last week, for George Lambert’s Artist and His Batman, Light Horse Calvary, Jerusalem Heights, 1920, which hammered at $305,000, more than three times its low estimate, and Benjamin Duterrau’s Self Portrait, 1835, which sold for $160,000 (hammer), $60,000 above its low estimate.

In all, Deutscher and Hackett turned over $32.4 million in sales this year, its second best result since the company started trading in 2007.