By Terry Ingram, on 10-Aug-2016

The hunt for fine examples of works by Emmanuel Phillips Fox has intensified with a chase as vigorous as those which used to accompany a bloody fox hunt when they were legal years ago.

At a house sale held by E J Ainger last Sunday, one of the artist’s late works, The Avenue, showing a road with a row of trees and distant figures, sold for $130,000 plus buyers’ premium (around $156,000 all up) compared with an estimate of only $30,000 to $40,000.

The hunt for fine examples of works by Emmanuel Phillips Fox has intensified with a chase as vigorous as those which used to accompany a bloody fox hunt when they were legal years ago. At a house sale held by E J Ainger last Sunday, 'The Avenue', a late work by the artist, sold for $130,000 hammer compared with an estimate of only $30,000 to $40,000. The work was the most desirable offering in the dispersal of the estate of the late Marion Orme McPherson of South Yarra and the Riverina.

The work was the most desirable offering in the dispersal of the estate of the late Marion Orme McPherson who had extensive property holdings in South Yarra and a family homestead in the Riverina.

The family’s large house in Domain Road with its big block of land sold for $33 million recently.

The result for the Fox probably surprised a lot of observers as much as the €269,000 paid for a portrait of the beautiful woman by him at a French provincial auction last year.

The bidding at that sale also ran beyond the estimates of £120,000 to £150,000 which the auctioneers May et Associes of Roubaix had put upon it.

That price was also well over the estimate but the asking price for the work blew out to £750,000 when it reappeared in June last year on London dealer Richard Green’s stand at the Masterpiece Art Fair in London.

Its price appreciation almost certainly helped blow out the price of the work offered at Aingers, but the excitement of a named house sale undoubtedly also contributed. .

The associes of Roubaix picture was a portrait of the wife of the artist Penleigh Boyd to whom Fox is believed to have introduced her, and was a stunner as was the sitter.

A chef d’oeuvre, that work established him as a worthy global commodity which would have produced a quick sale among the Russians – and a possible profit of over $500,000 all costs accounted for – had there not been the usual resentment in the market place attached to other dealer's finds.

It is not known if it has found a buyer despite Russian petro-tsars lust for such trophy pictures. These trophy collectors – and it could be described as a trophy find – have been down on their luck of late because of a savaged rouble and the fall in the oil price.

Fox is one of the few Australian painters from the late Impressionist period (alongside Rupert Bunny and the Anglo Australian Charles Conder) you might expect to find at the Masterpiece Fair at which the portrait was shown.

The Avenue was no trophy painting. In the 1970s and 1980s when Australians were collecting art alphabetically (you know F stands for Fox etc) at the urging of Melbourne dealer Joseph Brown it would have been a much admired addition to a collection.

For the Fox hunters it was a pleasant enough capture, an example of his dappled sunlight effects. A lot of the older punters, of course have gone so their presence at the sale would have been even more of a surprise!

Perhaps, with so many older people now wresting with melanomas, there is a sub- conscious drift towards these works away from the Heidelberg painters who liked direct sunlight.

The Avenue is believed to have excited about seven seriously interested parties and went to a bidder from Sydney who flew to Melbourne to buy the work after its inclusion in the sale had been foreshadowed in a national newspaper.

The bidding in the packed and busy room came from the direction of Sydney dealer Andrew Crawford and Associates. Crawford, who has been one of the keenest purchasers of all the Fox works, and his wife Carrick's, conceded he had "had a bash at it".

It would accord his pursuit of fine accessible collectable works in which he has specialised in for many years but for which he now has a gallery in John Street, Leichhardt near auction row.

There was speculation that a member of the late owner’s family, which had banking connections, had been interested in acquiring it.

Fox admirers tend to like their figures closer to the viewer than the minuscule ones in the avenue in the painting.

The sale was dominated by paintings by the artists and of the type which the earlier Leonard Joel Auctions used to sell.

Those sales produced many a fine work which ought to be still out of the culture bin to which unfashionable paintings trend. It is encouraging to see that there are collectors around for these works although late Edwardian Australian art tends to be consigned mostly to this bin.

The painting had some of the qualities that put the artist into the art history books if it did give only a small tick in some of the biggest boxes.

The heavy tree trunks which dominate the picture do not make a particularly pretty sight but that was perhaps just what he was looking at.

He has been dubbed Australia’s Renoir due to the sunlight – and probably better fits that description than Margaret Olley as Fantin Latour with whose values her works now sometimes approximate.

The massive sale included a large number of traditional paintings acquired in the cluttered way that was popular decades ago.

It grossed $700,000 plus premiums which today would hardly buy one trophy type Phillips Fox.

But that may just be a reflection of rising inequality as the rich get rich and the poor get poorer.

The auction record for a Fox is held by Autumn which sold for $610,000 at Bonhams in November 1912.

Sale Referenced: Estate of late Sidney Orme McPherson (Art lots only), E. J. Ainger Pty.Ltd., Melbourne, 07/08/2016

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

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