Menzies Art Brands

March Auction Wrap Up


The lasting memory of the March auction for me remains three works by Arthur Streeton. This artist’s durability in the Australian collecting market was underlined by the strong result for a beautiful scene of Sydney Harbour painted in 1907. Streeton was a strong minded artist who asserted his individuality while consciously laying the foundations for Australian Art in the 20th century. Amidst all the highlights and success of his life, it takes a close examination of a painting such as lot 45 Calm Morning, Sirius Cove to remind us that his career was founded upon a very high order technical ability. Streeton was a natural - capable of feats of painting virtuosity, but he never merely showed off. This little painting, produced when he was 40 years old and at the mid-point of his career, is a showcase of his skill and judgment. In a reversal of convention, the foreground is generalised, to the point where it invites comparison with work considered radical 60 years later. The distance, on the other hand is rendered in sharp focus, with an extraordinary amount of sheer information imparted in a small area: the harbour, ships, buildings and the weather on the day are all effortlessly conveyed in a few strokes.

33 years later, at the end of his career, Streeton sat down in the sitting room of his home in the Dandenongs and painted the scene before him. Lot 72, Interior, Olinda, shows the room with the blinds down but with the sun working its way through an opening to cast a subdued light on an interior which consists, with the exception of a bowl of purple flowers, entirely of shades of brown. Streeton’s infallible touch captures the surfaces and the textures of the room exactly. Like Calm Morning, Sirius Cove it is a discretely virtuouso performance. The last, and in my opinion by no means least interesting Streeton in the sale is his Liverpool Docks, lot 116 a watercolour commissioned in England by Walter Rea in 1905. Rea owned port facilities at Liverpool and Southhampton. Streeton rendered the textures, contrasting shapes and atmospheric effects of the scene perfectly. The watercolour recalls the extraordinary paintings Streeton produced in 1918 while serving in France as a war artist.  

Streeton’s enduring strength in the market is underlined by his results in this auction. Calm Morning, Sirius Cove, estimated at $100,000 -140,000 sold for a very respectable $175,000, buyer’s premium inclusive (bpi). The watercolour sold in the middle of its estimate range at $12,500 bpi, while the Interior, possibly a little ambitiously estimated at $40,000-60,000, was unsold and the subject of a post-sale negotiation at the time of writing.  

Streeton was one of several traditional artists whose work was the subject of strong bidding at the auction. Will Ashton (lot 5), Frederick Garling (lot 24) Rupert Bunny (lot 75) WB McInnes (lot 70) Sydney Long (lot 71) all attracted strong bidding and produced great results for admittedly modest but nonetheless very well executed paintings.

One of the top prices for the auction was achieved for an artist who might be the epitome of traditional Australian art, Frederick McCubbin. His lot 40 Looking North from Mount Macedon sold for $562,500. This was one of those paintings that improved with further acquaintance and revealed more of itself each time I stood in front of it Painted just before McCubbin set off for  Europe in 1907, it is an historically important and at the same time beautiful piece by one of Australia’s best known and loved artists.

Those modernists such as Lloyd Rees and William Dobell, whose appeal extends also to collectors of more traditional Australian art, fared well with good bidding on small and very finely wrought works. Rees’ Country House, lot 7 sold for $21,250 bpi just short of its top estimate, while the Dobell Portrait of Robert Menzies was the subject of a bidding duel which saw it fetch $27,500 bpi, well clear of its top estimate of $20,000.

Menzies were able to sell all 5 of the Howard Arkleys in the sale. This painter, arguably the leading artist of his generation at his untimely death, has defied controversy and an erratic market history to confirm his place in the Australian art market. The contemporary art component of the auction produced mixed results: Lucy Culliton’s early Summer Fruits, lot 11, cleared its top estimate to fetch $16,250, an auction record for the artist and Ben Quilty, the hottest artist in Australia at the moment achieved a price of $8,125 for his Boy, 2008, a work on paper. Euan Macleod has established a regular place in the secondary market for his work and it was no surprise to see all three of his paintings in the sale, lot 17, Figures on Horizon, 106, Figure Hyde Park and 111, Study for Sculpture (Light on Dark), were sold. Menzies have had some success in selling Hazel Dooney’s work and the trend continued in this auction with strong interest and an excellent price for her Big Pin-Up: Miss February, 2012, which fetched $13,750 bpi.

In defiance of the strength of the Australian currency, a number of international pieces were sold for high prices. This mixed bag included a delightful early print of his cat, Sam, by Andy Warhol, produced when the artist was on the threshold of stardom, which fetched $17,500 bpi; a classic piece of High Victorian genre painting, The Task, by George Bernhard O’Neill, lot 80 sold for $25,000 bpi and Han Snel’s Five Balinese Woman, painted in 1961 sold for $8,125. These works all easily exceeded the auctioneer’s expectations.



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