Banking on art

The Australian, 24 February 2022

Art-loving National Australia Bank boss Ross McEwan put his money where his mouth was on Tuesday evening, personally snapping up two of the most prestigious works to be sold as part of the wider divestment of the bank's multimillion-dollar art collection.

McEwan was at auction house Deutscher and Hackett's South Yarra gallery Melbourne to see the first 73 of the bank's 2500-work collection go up for sale, with the bank boss paying for two of the pieces that had been hand-picked for the kick-off auction.

All up, the bank is selling its entire 2500-piece collection with the second tranche of 130 works - estimated to be worth between $870,000 and $1.2m - set to be sold on Wednesday night at Leonard Joel.

Margin Call hears that the two works picked from the catalogue by McEwan, who was part of a full house of 140 art lovers there for the midweek sale, were at the lower end of the sales range.

Works ultimately were sold for hammer prices ranging from $800,000 for Jeffrey Smart's 1973 work The Footbridge to a bottom-end sale of several works for $4500.

NAB would not confirm which works the boss had bought for his own walls.

Estimates had been for the 73 auction lots to be worth $4.5m-$6m, but enthusiastic bidding from those in the room and many, many more who joined proceedings by telephone and online meant total hammer prices on the night were $8.5m.