Menzies Art Brands

SALI HERMAN Street Scene, Sydney


Lot 102. Sali Herman Street Scene, Sydney 1949

It’s hard to put your finger on Sali Herman’s place in the current Australian art market. During the 1980’s art boom he prospered and set a price record for his work of $77,000 (buyer’s premium inclusive). This was not beaten until the Mertz collection sale in June 2000 when his Aboriginal Burial Grounds on Melville Island achieved the price of $96,000.

Although most collectors would agree that Herman’s market is at present off the boil, the fact that his current record of $137,425 was established only 3 years ago would tend to contradict this view. However, individual paintings whose performance can be tracked over the last 20 years show that the market for the artist has softened: Charles Lane, a typical 1952 view of an inner Sydney working class neighbourhood sold for $60,000 in 1988. After a failed attempt to sell it soon afterwards with estimates set at $70-80,000, it was duly sold in 2000 with estimates radically realigned to $25,000 to 30,000 for $46,000.

The art market dynamics which produce this sort of result are complex, however, in broad terms, artist’s stature grows as the flow of quality paintings onto the market continues. If the market fails to produce high grade examples, collectors can lose interest with the result that the market can decline, exaggerating a negative trend. This produces opportunity for collectors with a long term view. These collectors know that the supply and demand dynamic can distort the way we see a painting, and that looking at the painting’s fundamental qualities and the history of the artist can mean collecting at a good price.

Herman’s career spans the period of Australian Modern Art. He is a contemporary of Nolan, Boyd, Perceval, Drysdale and Fairweather. He arrived in Melbourne in 1937 before settling in Sydney the following year. He began to paint the urban scenes for which he became best known soon after his arrival, and during the late 1940’s he became an established figure after his 1944 McElhone Stairs (Australian National Gallery) won the Wynne prize. He became a highly visible artist, popular and well regarded. Dealers were unable to keep up with the demand and his work became hard to get.  This continued through to the art market boom of the late 1980’s when he, like many painters achieved record prices. At the height of his market around 1988-9, Herman was able to sell his best paintings, mainly the urban scenes, and in particular the earlier works, routinely for $20-30,000 with some examples selling for $40,000.

Lot 102, painted in 1949 belongs to the best type of work produced by the artist. It is tightly composed with a delicacy of touch, and has the classic components of a figure and some domestic animals, without the sentimentality that is evident in some of his later work. It is a very fine Herman and at estimates of $12-16,000 is one of the bargains of the auction. 

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