By Terry Ingram, on 12-May-2016

In the first sale of a new era in the saleroom, a “bride” fell over. The “bride”, Arthur Boyd's Bridegroom in a Black Creek (lot 159) had to be referred at $680,000 short of the $700,000 lower reserve and has not yet been listed as sold.

As brides go she was no stunner. But another smaller “bride”, which was more presentable and interesting as a composition was vigorously contested. Bridegroom Waiting for His Bride to Grow Up  (lot 123) sold for $220,000, ($268,400 including buyer's premium) against a low estimate of $150,000.

In a season in which the majority of sales have been in Melbourne, Melbourne artists triumphed nabbing six of the 10 spots in the auction's top 10 price list at the Sotheby's Australia auction, titled Important Australian and International Art, and held at Sydney's Intercontinental Hotel

In the first sale of a new era in the saleroom, a small Arthur Boyd "bride", was vigorously contested. 'Bridegroom Waiting for His Bride to Grow Up (above) sold for $220,000 hammer against a low estimate of $150,000. Melbourne artists triumphed nabbing six of the 10 spots in the top 10 sale prices. The Sotheby's Australia auction of Important Australian and International Art, in Sydney brought in $8,865,740 including buyer's premium, representing 71.62 per cent sold by lot and 121.57 per cent by value.

The large bride was the only casualty in the “Melbourne” list, its presence towards the back of the catalogue perhaps indicative of its likely appeal.

As Geoffrey Smith so aptly summed up, the series continues to provide powerful commentary on indigenous and universal themes of love, suffering, injustice - and the new current obsession, inequality.

Three other Boyds were unsold but as lesser items they might not have been indicative of the new era that is being defined by saleroom wags as AD – After Denis.

Why AD? It is now little use being guided by the old era BC and AD (Before Cornes and After Don) because the colonial art that defined that era is no longer being offered in any quantity. We live in both the post Cornes era and the After Denis era although both gents may well surprise us in future trading.

That there was interest in the raunchy rather than the non performing bride shows that Boyd has not lost his stamina when at his best in the saleroom – helped by its provenance, the estate of the late Ursula Hoff, who had pioneered research on the artist and represented by a stern countenance of herself in the room. To their shame no one wanted her.

The mixed vendor sale was the first after the Denis Savill collection of Australian art held by Sotheby's Australia on the previous night of May 11. Savill's departure was the end of an era during which no major auction did not receive his input as a buyer. Often his participation made or broke a sale.

If Wednesday evening's sale is any guide, the market will survive his tentative departure. The total including buyer's premium was $8,865,740 which represented 71.62 per cent by lot and 121.57 per cent by value. The buy-ins were largely among the lower priced lots as 53 were sold and 21 unsold.

Melbourne artists work is not always collected solely by Victorians of course, although some Sydney-siders find it hard to mount the same enthusiasm for John Brack and a little less difficult for Fred Williams than collectors in Victoria do.

Nor is it likely that all, most, or many of the top paintings ended in Victorian hands at the sale as we do not know who the buyers were, but Brack and Williams inclusion in the top 10 accounted for $5.06 million of the total.

After the most appealing work in the auction, the catalogue cover lot Two Running Girls (Lot 152 ) painted by Brack in 1959 sold for $1.64 million against estimates of $1 million to $1.2 million, about 20 people walked out of the saleroom most of whom obviously had come along to see what happened to the picture.

The crowd was only about one third the size of that for the Savill sale which might have been accounted for by the sale's heavy “Melbourne content” but the Savill sale had been a major event in saleroom terms and sales have thinned out enormously over the last two years due to the availability of remote bidding.

The price gave credence to Sotheby's post sale press release heading "Runaway Success" but Fred Williams Hillside Landscape (Lot 142 ) cemented Sotheby's Australia's increasing ownership of the million dollar picture market even more so at $1.83 million (including buyer's premium) against $1 million to $1.2 million estimates.

Oddly, Two Girls Running (Lot 152 ) came from a Sydney collection and had been in a Perth collection before that, selling for $51,000 in 1991. This time it went to $1.35 million hammer ($1.64 million including buyer's premium) giving the owner a handsome profit.

No wonder that one buyer of lesser price lots who said he had come from Melbourne for the sale and bought 11 lots, said he was buying with investment in mind.

Hillside Landscape No. 1 (Lot 142 ) by Fred Williams appeared to go to a couple in the room for a hammer price of $1.4 million, ($1.83 million including buyer's premium), the hammer price comfortably eclipsing the top estimate of $1.2 million in frenetic bidding.

Like Mondrian, Brack had a floral period and his Christmas Lilies of 1955 (Lot 165 ) was a fine example of the genre. It went to art consultant David Hulme on the phone to a client.

The long run on Jeffrey Smart's work seems to be tapering off with Jeffrey Smart's High C (Lot 121 ) selling for a low note $28,000 (34,160 including buyer's premium) which was just short of the $30,000 to $35,000 estimate, and The Billboards (Lot 141 ) estimated at $150,000 to $180,000 being unsold at a top bid of $140,000.

With presumably hometown support, Sydney landscape views found ready homes. The best specimen of these was Lloyd Rees whose The Morning Ferry (Lot 129 ) made $463,000 including buyer's premium (against estimates $250,000 to $350,000.

Rees has had the benefit of a recent publication and exhibition at the Museum of Sydney which had sealed his identification with Sydney Harbour.

There was keen competition – some of which should have been curatorial - for the very early topographical views with one buyer securing both Jacob Janssen's Government House, Sydney (Lot 134 ) for $75,000 ($91,500 including buyer's premium)  on estimates of $20,000 to $30,000 and John Campbell's Linwood House Guildford for $10,000 (Lot 136 ) ($12200 including buyer's premium) on estimates $10,000 to $15,000.

Tom Roberts oval panel depicting the wife and daughter of one of his medical patrons, Dr Springthorpe, made an over-the-estimate $78,000, ($95,160 including buyer's premium). In a different era, of course, it would have made more.

The offerings were sourced from a very diverse and impressive list of collectors, artists, authors and artists' widows but mostly anonymous as were the buyer's as they were mostly on the phone with some on the Internet and only occasionally in the room.

The vendors, including the respected Cameron Sparks, did not save a fine oil on cardboard of a tall tree by Dorrit Black, The Big Serpentine, (Lot 132 ) from extinction at $7500 just short of the $8000 lower estimate that would have felled it. The work was not deco enough for the market which is more attuned to her prints.

Years ago when the buyer's premium was introduced, Sydney collectors had to go to Melbourne for the best sales because the premium could not be charged in NSW. Now Melbourne buyers are coming to Sydney to buy.

Sale Referenced: Important Australian & International Art, Sotheby's , Sydney, 11/05/2016

About The Author

Terry Ingram inaugurated the weekly Saleroom column for the Australian Financial Review in 1969 and continued writing it for nearly 40 years. His scoops include the Whitlam Government's purchase of Blue Poles in 1973 and repeated fake scandals (from contemporary art to antique silver) and auction finds. He has closely followed the international art, collectors and antique markets to this days. Terry has also written two books on the subjects