Best year since 2007: Deutscher and Hackett set art auction record

Gabriella Coslovich, Australian Financial Review, 8 December 2022

For the first time in 15 years an Australian auction house has superseded the $50 million mark in its annual sales. Bolstered by the sale of two big corporate collections, auction house Deutscher and Hackett has steamed ahead of its competitors, turning over more than $52 million this year, surpassing the boom-time record set in 2007 when Sotheby’s Australia sold $51.5 million worth of art at auction.

“It’s a very hard act to follow,” says Deutscher and Hackett’s co-executive director Chris Deutscher of his own results, achieved primarily through the consignment of the National Australia Bank’s art collection and that of super fund Cbus.

“Those two corporate collections added $20 million plus to the equation,” Deutscher says. “Historically, $30 million is a very good year for our business, but this was a super good year.”

Deutscher and Hackett launched the year with the $10.5 million NAB sale in February, setting 12 new records into the bargain, and finished last week on a high, with an $8.3 million sale that saw three auction records tumble, most significantly for the late Rosalie Gascoigne, who enters the million-dollar-club with the work Beaten Track, 1992.

A classic Gascoigne, made from sawn pieces of wooden Schweppes soft drink crates, the work sold for $850,000 on the hammer, or $1.04 million once buyer’s fees were included. (Deutscher and Hackett charges a buyer’s fee of 25 per cent inclusive of GST on the hammer price).


That figure catapulted Gascoigne into this year’s top ten sale prices, making her one of only two women in the category, the other being Ethel Carrick Fox, whose painting Sur la Plage (On the Sands), Dinard, 1911, sold for $1.2 million at Smith & Singer in August.

“When you commonly have key modern artists such as Nolan, Williams and Brack making $1 million, it felt right, it felt that she deserved to be there for something that good, and it was an exceptional work,” Deutscher says of Gascoigne. “And it was really pleasing to see at least half a dozen people bidding on it, not just the old-fashioned battle between two.”

Deutscher had been concerned about the effects of a slowing economy on the company’s last auction of the year. He needn’t have worried.

“I was nervous going into this last sale,” he says. “A lot of gloomy conversations were going on, but it felt like a boom-time auction.”

The auction also set new records for Paddy Bedford, with the work Mendoowoorrji – Medicine Pocket, 2005, which achieved $260,000 (hammer), $100,000 above its high estimate, and for Frederick Woodhouse Junior’s Mentor, Winner of the 1888 Melbourne Club, With Trainer Walter S. Hickenbotham and Jockey Mick O’Brien, at Flemington, 1889, which sold for $48,000 (hammer), more than double its low estimate of $20,000.

These markedly different works – one by a leading Indigenous artist of his homeland in the Kimberley, the other by an Australian colonial artist of a prize thoroughbred – hailed from the same collection, that of the late Sydney pathologist Colin Laverty and his widow Elizabeth Laverty.

“The Woodhouse almost looked out of place in the auction,” says Deutscher, “but that’s Colin Laverty’s broad tastes.”

Dr Laverty was an expert on the art of the Woodhouse family and wrote the book Australian Colonial Sporting Painters: Frederick Woodhouse and sons (1980). But the Lavertys were also keen supporters of Indigenous artists, travelling extensively to remote community art centres. The majority of their Indigenous art collection was sold by Bonhams at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art in 2013, soon after Colin’s death.

Indigenous works from the Laverty collection continue to trickle out, and four were included in last week’s Deutscher and Hackett auction, among them Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s Untitled (Alalgura/Emu Country), 1989, which sold for $80,000 above its high estimate for $280,000 (hammer), and Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori’s Dibirdibi Country, 2009, which sold for $50,000 (hammer), double its high estimate, and the second-highest price paid for a Gabori at auction.