By David Hulme & Brigitte Banziger, on 15-Sep-2016

Ben Quilty’s mean and very clean depiction of a Toyota Landcruiser, lot 1,  led the Deutscher + Hackett sale of Important Fine Art with 117 lots held in their now regular venue in Sydney, the Cell Block Theatre at the National Art School.

And lead the way to an excellent sale lot 1 did. Setting the tone for the evening, this rare and large 2005 thick impasto painting quickly eclipsed its respectable $40,000-60,000 estimate, to sell at $80,000 hammer price, with many interested parties missing out on their prey. It also set a new record price for the artist, beating the $66,000 price set at Menzies in December 2011 for one of Quilty’s famous Toranas from 2003.


The cover lot, Brett Whiteley’s Washing The Salt Off III, 1985 was the most anticipated offering of the evening, pitched perfectly at $650,000-850,000. Attracting strong interest in the room and on the phones, the magic million dollar bid was placed after a long slow bidding war. The clearance rate of 73% by number and 102% by value suggests there was very strong interest in the best of the offerings, totalling a solid $5.36 million turnover for Deutscher + Hackett’s spring sale.

Two particularly contemporary works followed this sure bet: Taking a risk perhaps with Alex Seton’s Soloist, 2012 (Lot 2 ), there was no doubt that this was a very strong work in bronze, but could it reach the $80,000-100,000 expectations - with just nine previous auction offerings and a highest auction price of $24,000 for The Stockroom Trap, set by D+H in 2014? Also very strongly bid, the piece sailed over the high estimate, selling for a $110,000 hammer price, and setting the second auction record of the night for an artist.

The head-turning Untitled, 2012-14 (Lot 3 ), an eerily life-like sculpture of twin babies by Sam Jinks, was an even bolder question for the night’s audience, with estimates of $30,000-40,000. Clean as a baby’s …. it sold at the bottom end of the estimate. This was the first outing into the saleroom for Sam Jinks, so perhaps we will start to see more after this encouraging result.

Continuing a naked theme, there appeared to be a number of buyers with nice long hallways to display Guan Wei’s The Last Supper, 1995 (Lot 4 ), 13 panels at 87 x 598 cm overall, and setting another auction record with the hammer price of $40,000, also the high estimate, and almost double the previous artist’s record of $22,000 for In the Clouds, 2006, achieved at Menzies in March 2015.

Grace Cossington Smith’s colourful Drapery in the Studio (Lot 5 ) was anything but washed out and climbed to $50,000 , or $5,000 above its high estimate.

Likewise, two prints created almost 50 years apart by two of Australia’s greatest printmakers achieved predictably sterling results: Dorrit Black’s interesting Air Travel: Pineapple Plantation, 1949 (Lot 6 ) sold for $17,000 above its $10,000-15,000 pitch, while Cressida Campbell’s Ceramics with Coral Flower, 1996 (Lot 8 ) sold only just under its high estimate for $19,000.

Dancing merrily upwards with the help of Roger McIlroy’s seasoned gavel, John Brack’s fabulous Sketch for Backs and Fronts 1969 (Lot 9 ) “did a Quilty” (Lot 1 ) in selling for $80,000 against the $40,000-60,000 estimate. Again from the Paul and Gwen Frolich collection, Brack’s Study for the Red Carpet, 1970 (Lot 10 ) was also an excellent work on paper, and again easily surpassed its $25,000-35,000 estimate to sell at $40,000 .

Even though Roy de Maistre’s The Farm Cart c1930 (Lot 11 ) was technically a very good painting and with exceptional provenance, it was perhaps too untypical or mundane for collectors of his work, as it failed to sell on its $60,000-80,000 expectations.

Danila Vassilieff’s Yankee with Girls, Aussies without, 1942 (Lot 12 ), however was a very different story, selling for a whopping $60,000 on $30,000-40,000 estimates, and whilst not a record for the artist, as his sculptures have sold for higher prices, it is an Australian record price for one of his paintings. Deutscher + Hackett beat their own record set in April 2014 when Fitzroy Children, 1937, sold for $48,000 .

The night contained some masterful landscapes by Australia’s greatest exponents, including Russell Drysdyale, Lloyd Rees, Brett Whiteley, Fred Williams and William Robinson – no disappointment but a clean sweep.

Drysdale’s modestly sized Split Rocks c1952 (Lot 13 ) at 40.5 x 51 cm sold mid-range for $72,000. Lloyd Rees’ larger Sunset on the Omega Hills 1948 (Lot 14 ), a very important painting, sold for a very important price of $180,000 at its low estimate. Likewise, Fred Williams’ Acacia Saplings c1974 (Lot 16 ) carried expectations of $280,000-340,000 and sold at the low end. Brett Whiteley’s Blue and Green Paddock, 1979 (Lot 18 ) joined the low end estimate sale prices, however at the much higher level of $450,000.

Perhaps all were waiting for the return to auction form of our great living landscape artist William Robinson. His Morning, Tallanbanna, 1998 (Lot 21 ) dominated the gallery in its Sydney viewing in both scale and subject, and its $180,000-240,000 estimates were but a glimpse in the distance when the hammer finally came down at $330,000.

Jeffrey Smart’s early painting from his Adelaide days, Paringa, 1957 (Lot 15 ) was looking a little lonely having failed to find interest on estimates of $200,000-300,000 by the end of the evening. However, Damian Hackett suggested it might find a home after the sale.

Not unusual for a cover lot of an Australian fine art sale, Brett Whiteley’s Washing The Salt Off III, 1985 (Lot 17 ) ticked all the boxes in this regard, and was the most anticipated offering of the evening. It had been pitched perfectly at $650,000-850,000 and was highly comparable to Washing The Salt Off II, 1984 which sold at Sotheby’s for $800,000  in November 2014 on estimates of $800,000-1,000,000.

It attracted very strong interest in the room and on the phones, and although struggling along with $10,000 bids at the end, it looked like whoever placed the magic million dollar bid would have a psychological advantage and win this bathing beauty – which it did to thunderous applause from the capacity crowd.

Tim Storrier’s star was not as high last night, with The Night (Chrome Tap), 2008 passing in (Lot 26 ), while The Night Sky, 1993 (Lot 35 ) sold at its low end of $120,000.

Meanwhile, Charles Blackman’s gargantuan The Garden, 1972 (Lot 36 ) – probably larger than most Sydney gardens at 159 x 422.5 cm – sold for a solid mid-range estimate of $300,000.

Finally, William Strutt’s humorous Spring Cleaning, 1892 (Lot 46 ) sold for $65,000  at its low estimate.

The clearance rate of 73% by number and 102% by value suggests there was very strong interest in the best of the offerings, totalling in a solid $5.36 million turn-over for Deutscher + Hackett’s spring sale.

All prices shown are hammer prices.

Sale Referenced: Important Australian & International Fine Art, Deutscher and Hackett , Sydney, 13/09/2016

About The Author

David Hulme is a fine art appraiser and an approved valuer for the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program. He and Brigitte Banziger are principals of Banziger Hulme Fine Art Consultants, Manly, NSW. They are members of the Art Consulting Association of Australia and are an approved service provider for the Australian Antique and Art Dealers Association.