Bidder crash system, splashes $10.5 million on NAB art collection
(Deutscher and Hackett charges a 25% buyer’s commission including GST on top of the hammer price.)
The sale signaled a new breed of online buyers, the type that also sent British street artist Banksy skyrocketing at auction. Sharp has similar credibility on the street. He was a key figure in Sydney’s avant-garde, co-founding the 1960s counterculture ounces magazine, creator of psychedelic posters for Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Donovan, record covers for Cream, and costumes and sets for the Nimrod Theatre.
Unsurprisingly, the most expensive works of the evening were those of well-established artists, topped by those of Jeffrey Smart Gateway1975, which rose $200,000 above its high estimate to sell for $800,000 (hammer) to a bidder in the room. Gateway is Smart’s signature, a brilliantly melancholy painting of a lone woman in yellow standing on a turquoise pedestrian overpass, umbrella open against a leaden sky.
Arthur Streeton’s traditional landscape, Blue Vista of the Sundial1920, from Victoria’s Grampians mountain range, sold for $750,000 (hammer), against a high estimate of $500,000.
But there was also a desire for a more contemporary view of landscape with the monumental paintings of William Delafield Cook which are doing extremely well. to cook A French cliff1979, which measures 86.5cm by 305cm, more than doubled its high estimate to hammer in $420,000, setting a record for the artist at auction.
Three expressive landscapes by Australia’s supposedly greatest living artist, John Olsen, have all been hotly contested. from Olsen dark abyss1976, sold to a surfer for $400,000 (hammer) twice its high estimate. Small streams flowing into a large river1990, sold for $370,000 (hammer), $170,000 above its high estimate, and approaching the storm1980, hammered at $310,000, $190,000 above its high estimate.
Nature paintings were atypical for the late Howard Arkley, known for his airbrushed suburban homes and freeway curves. But Arkley was nothing if not talented and his ravishing painting of a rushing waterfall, Waterfall 2, 1988, sold for $460,000, more than triple its high estimate. Interestingly, a delightfully minimal work by Arkley, the first summary, Stroke1975, was also sought after and fetched $94,000, more than triple its high estimate.
A renewed appreciation for abstract art was evident, perhaps fueled by a younger generation tapping into the vibe of the 1970s. The geometric softness of Don Ramette Untitled in blue, 1976, exceeded its high estimate five times to sell for $15,000 (hammer). Abstracts from artists such as Miriam Stannage, Robert Juniper, Robert Rooney, Robert Jacks, Richard Larter, Alun Leach-Jones, John Coburn and Rosslynd Piggott all sold above estimate.
The work of women artists made a name for itself on the secondary market last year, but only five female artists were represented in this flagship sale, proof that the art scene of the 1970s was very masculine. Bidders had to wait for lot 42 for the first of the female artists in the NAB sale to go under the hammer. It was worth the wait. Lesley Dumbrell’s undulating acrylic painting Chinook, 1975, named after a hot wind prevailing in western North America, more than doubled its high estimate to sell for $50,000 (hammer), a record for the artist. Born in Melbourne and now living in Bangkok, Dumbrell, 81, recently told Deutscher that she vividly remembers the debate over acrylic paint in the 1970s and how it wouldn’t stand the test of time.
“Over the past couple of years I’ve managed to see paintings from this era and I’m surprised at how well they’ve held up,” she said.
After the sale, she told Saleroom: “The paintings are like children! It’s good to know Chinook found a home that will take great care of it!”
Stainless steel sculpture of Inge King, Planetas of 2009, was another hotly contested work, tripling its estimate to hammer in $180,000.
The auction was supported until the end. The last batch, that of George Hayne figure study, 1972, bought by NAB from the Skinner Galleries in Perth that year, hammered at four times its estimate to sell for $60,000. Another painting from the Skinner Galleries, that of Robert Juniper Greenmount Hill1969, more than doubled its high estimate, selling for $81,000 (hammer), suggesting some top Western Australian collectors had their eye on the sale – but Deutscher was keeping quiet on whether any of them were Kerry Stokes.
Only two paintings have been transmitted – that of Ralph Balson Non-objective painting1958 and Rick Amor The Yarra in Abbotsford1989. Balson sold after auction for $40,000 (hammer).
NAB Group chief operating officer Les Matheson said the company was “very pleased with the first night of auction results”. After auction costs are deducted, NAB is expected to receive approximately $8 million from Tuesday’s sale, all of which will go to the NAB Foundation to help communities prepare for natural disasters in the face of climate change. But as Sydney artist Ben Quilty recently pointed out, while NAB remains one of the world’s biggest financiers of fossil fuel projects, the bank’s environmental credentials are open to debate.
Leonard Joel will auction about 2,000 more works from the NAB collection throughout this year, with the first sale taking place on Wednesday evening.