The top 11 highest Australian art auctions in 2021

Kerrie O'Brien, Sydney Morning Herald, 22 December 2021

Landscape painter Arthur Streeton ruled Australian art auctions in 2021, commanding the highest price for the year and taking out four of the top 11 sales.

In a list dominated by dead, white, male artists, Streeton attracted a record-breaking $3 million for his work The Grand Canal (1908), which depicts Venice at the turn of the century and was auctioned by Deutscher and Hackett in April. Brett Whiteley claimed second place with The Dove in the Mango Tree (1984), sold for $1.96 million at a Smith & Singer auction in November.

Streeton’s fellow Heidelberg School member Frederick McCubbin’s work What the Little Girl Saw in the Bush (1904) was the third-highest earner, sold for about $1.5 million in April.

Four of the works in the top 11 were painted more than 100 years ago. Deutscher and Hackett executive director Chris Deutscher said the year’s auction results reflected a trend of younger buyers collecting older, traditional works. Mr Deutscher said in the past five years there had been growing interest in older works, with big gallery shows helping to focus buyers’ attention on the artists.

Jeffrey Smart, the subject of a current blockbuster show at the National Gallery of Australia, had three works in the top 11, created in Italy where he lived much of his adult life. Seven of the 11 works were set outside Australia.

Several works on the list were made available to the public for the first time in many years, having been tightly held in private collections before they went to auction.

One woman is on the list: Bessie Davidson, who was for a time an Impressionist like Streeton and McCubbin, working in Adelaide and later Paris.