Super fund Cbus to sell its Australian art collection

Matthew Westwood, The Australian, 26 May 2022

In the late 1980s, art experts Joseph Brown and Bernard Smith made a call on the ACTU and managed to convince a building union superannuation fund that it should invest in Australian art.

The Cbus Collection of Australian Art, as it came to be known, started with an investment of $2m and now includes about 300 works by many well-known names, including Arthur Boyd, Emily Kngwarreye, Margaret Preston, Brett Whiteley and Fred Williams. The super fund is about to see the return on its investment, as the collection will go under the hammer in four sales at Deutscher and Hackett starting in July.

The Cbus collection was started in the era of big corporate collections and trophy paintings bought by the likes of Robert Holmes a Court and Alan Bond.

“Cbus became pretty much the only corporate collection that kept going with some determination,” said Chris Deutscher, executive director of Deutscher and Hackett.

“It was an attempt by Joseph Brown to put together an encyclopedic collection of Australian art.” While Mr Deutscher said the sale could exceed $9m, Brett Chatfield, Cbus deputy chief investment officer, said the fund did not speculate on returns.

He said the sale was part of the fund’s ongoing management of its asset portfolio on behalf of its members.

The collection was not hidden in a boardroom but was managed by Latrobe Regional Gallery, which made the pictures available for exhibitions and loans.

The sale will include a small Jeffrey Smart painting, Study for Man with Bouquet, estimated at $120,000-$180,000, and Margaret Preston’s Coastal Gums, $180,000-$240,000.

Other artists in the sale include colonial painters Eugene Von Guerard and William Piguenit, and Australian impressionists Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts and Frederick McCubbin.