A small but intrepid crowd stayed the distance of Mossgreen’s two day winter sale of some 300 lots, curiously curtailed to only seventy eight lots on Day 1, leaving 250 lots for the marathon second sitting. Those that stayed were prepared to fight with the bank of telephones for the favoured works that they had come for—sometimes leaving disappointed.
This meant that some works confidently surpassed expectations because of bidding duels, while others were passed. The clearance rate of just over 59% by lot was the same for both days, for the more expensive works on Day 1 and for the modestly reserved offerings on Day 2. This means that at all price levels of the market, people knew what they wanted and were not distracted.
At the night sale on Day 1, the small undated Ethel Carrick Fox oil on panel, In the Luxembourg Gardens (Lot 5 ), chosen by Mossgreen as its cover painting, seemed to glow with deft impressionist brushwork. Even though its surface needed a clean, and even though it cried out for an authentic period frame, it was deservedly pushed to $45,500 IBP against an upper estimate of $18,000—a worthy triumph for the collecting spirit.
Continuing with a theme of women painters to watch, a spectacular painting by Jessie Traill, Logging, 1913 (Lot 65 ) this time braced by a superb period frame—and with a quietly poetic take on the very masculine subject matter of felled trees in the Australian Bush—inexplicably failed to find a buyer.
Also unsold on the night was the conflicted Albert Tucker ‘Antipodean Head’, Attack of the Beast, 1953-55-86, (Lot 28 ), a classically European image of suffering and self-doubt that the artist had re-assessed and adjusted on the stated dates during his career. The reserve (near the $150,000 lower estimate) was possibly too restrictive as other similar pivotal works by Tucker, such as Faun Attacked by Parrots, 1967, seem to place the conflicted action in an unmistakably Australian context. The market loves Australianness. Our desire to understand the local, the culture of our place, has certainly helped the iconic status of folklore artists such as Sidney Nolan.
Naturally our culture is made whole and enriched by the widening appreciation of Western Desert painting. On Day 2, a beautiful collection of sixteen modestly scaled paintings on canvas and board almost universally found new homes. They were richly coloured and alive with dreaming through the implied land features, tracks, and effortless dot-painted asymmetry.
Here is Kenny Bell Tjampitjinpa’s Untitled, 1975, (lot 135) sold for $4550 IBP against an upper $3000 estimate. Higher in the market on the first day, Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s two metre Yam Dreaming, 1995 (Lot 13 ) found safe harbour at just over $100,000 IBP, falling, or rather climbing midway between the upper and lower estimate. Her effortless lines of budding ochre yams coiling against a dark ground are curiously beguiling: these are not random marks, but deliberate signs of her knowledge system as a spiritual elder. What a delight to see the Kngwarreye and Kovacs sell successfully together ‘across a crowded room’ with Mossgreen as curator.