Art sale records keep tumbling as collectors spend up

Gabriella Coslovich, Australian Financial Review, 24 November 2022

With the auction year almost at an end, fresh and noteworthy works keep coming to market. The first five lots in Deutscher and Hackett’s sale in Melbourne next Thursday night are all new to auction, chief among them a classic Howard Arkley painting of a suburban house, as well as works by Jeffrey Smart, Arthur Boyd, Charles Blackman, and Brett Whiteley.

Arkley’s High Fenced, 1996, a ripper of a painting two-metres high by one-and-a-half metres wide, has been in the same London private collection since 2000 and was exhibited by Tolarno Galleries at Art Cologne in 1996. With an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000, it’s the most valuable artwork in a sale that spoils for choice.

Whiteley’s sculpture, Giraffe No. 1, 1964-65, is of particularly historical and cultural significance. Edition one of four, with an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000, it too hails from a London private collection – the three other editions are all in the collection of the Brett Whiteley Estate in Sydney.

The edition being sold by Deutscher and Hackett was exhibited at Whiteley’s ground-breaking show at the Marlborough New London Gallery in 1965. Highlighting the audacious talent of the then 26-year-old artist, the Marlborough exhibition juxtaposed Whiteley’s London Zoo works with his macabre and confronting Christie murder series of paintings and drawings. Talk about a challenging if not incongruous mix. In her catalogue essay Kelly Gellatly, former director of the Ian Potter Museum of Art at the University of Melbourne, draws a connection between the two, writing that the animals “provided a positive counterpoint to Christie’s depravity and evil, yet the pent-up energy contained within their physical forms and their appearance, at times behind the wires of a cage, highlight their role as sentient beings and humankind’s complicity in their ongoing confinement.”

Standing almost two metres high, Whiteley’s tall, thin, bronze giraffe pays clear homage to the work of Alberto Giacometti. Other editions of this sculpture have been widely exhibited, most recently at the National Gallery of Victoria’s Baldesson/Whiteley Parallel Visions from 2018 to 2019.

From the same London collection comes another important Australian work, instantly recognisable as the creation of Rosalie Gascoigne, made from weathered and sawn Schweppes soft drink crates arranged on plywood. The work, Beaten Track, 1992, has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. The last time it came up for auction in 2005, at Christie’s in Sydney, it sold for $320,000 (hammer).

Two years ago, Deutscher and Hackett sold an irresistible painting by the Australian Impressionist Iso Rae, a rare inclusion at auction and hardly a household name, even though she studied at the National Gallery School alongside Frederick McCubbin, Tom Roberts and Jane Sutherland. The work, Young Girl, Etaples, c. 1892, set a new high for Rae, selling for $200,000 (hammer) more than seven times its low estimate of $30,000. The National Gallery of Victoria bought the painting, paying a total of $270,000 (including buyer’s fees).

On the strength of that sale, Deutscher and Hackett has been consigned another work by Rae, also fresh to the market. Rae’s Tricoteuse (A Knitter), c. 1909, estimate $40,000 to $60,000, shares the same gentle light and humanist feel that made Young Girl, Etaples so appealing. It has been in the same French family since its creation and has not been on view in Australia until now.

Deutscher and Hackett’s turnover this year has been dramatically boosted by the sales of big corporate art collections, namely those of the National Australia Bank and superfund Cbus. In a smaller corporate offering, credit rating agency S & P Global has consigned eight works by Lin Onus, all fresh to the secondary market and originally acquired from Melbourne’s respected Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi. The highlight is Onus’s Malwan Pond – Dawn, 1994, with an estimate of $180,000 to $250,000.