The painting is carefully signed and dated, May 20, 1888.
The date has an historic angle, which gives a possible clue as to the subject, being the 100th anniversary to the day of a 1788 fatal Aboriginal attack on a first fleet-era colonialist.
The somewhat enigmatic title, the youthful virtuosity of Conder’s technique and the unusual reportage-like rendering of the subject matter will ensure the work is the focus of some scholarly excitement and speculation, according to Menzies head of art Tim Abdallah.
“It’s a real thrill to handle works of genuine historic importance,” he said. “When you handle works of this rarity and quality, you are very conscious of an extra responsibility – both to the owners and to the memory of the artist.”
The Conder work is among 136 works of art to be auctioned by Menzies from 6.30pm Thursday May 11 at Menzies Gallery, 12 Todman Avenue at Kensington in Sydney. The estimates indicate a sale value of $6.2 to $8.4 million.
Strong interest from Heidelberg School artists collectors is expected for Tom Roberts The School Track c1900 (Lot 42 ), Frederick McCubbin’s Spring Morning 1914 (Lot 46 ) and Arthur Streeton’s highly desirable South Head, Sydney 1913-14 (Lot 44 ).
A renewed focus on this period in Australian art history and its major painters who have been household names for decades has become evident given the strong bidding at recent Menzies auctions for particularly Roberts and Streeton works.
Single owner auctions are a favourite with both auctioneers and collectors, usually because they signal the emergence of long unseen works.
Estates are also pregnant with possibilities for buyers looking for works fresh to the market and unencumbered with high estimates and reserves.
A small group of high quality moderns from an anonymous Melbourne collection, being sold by the heirs, include a sophisticated Jeffrey Smart painting House by Hoarding, 1966-67 (Lot 51 ) from the artist’s best period, a classic John Brack Nude in Profile 1974 (Lot 50 ), and fine works by Ginger Riley (Lot 53 ) and Charles Blackman (Lot 52 ).
The Brack, which appears on the cover of the sale catalogue, is the best example of this subject to appear since Menzies sold Double Nude I for $1.178 million almost four years ago.
Menzies viewings in Melbourne (late April) and Sydney make good use of generous display venues with a strong focus on contemporary sculpture.
No fewer than 12 sculptors (13 with Rosalie Gascoigne’s work) are represented in the auction and follow recent record and high prices with sculptures suited for display both in and out of doors.
Highlights include Tim Storrier’s The Grand Impedimenta (Lot 34 ), a life sized bronze figure; an imposing Bruce Armstrong 2.1-metre high protective bird/totem Temple 1991 (Lot 30 ), John Kelly’s bronze and steel cows Form and Function 2003 (Lot 32 ) and Bronwyn Oliver’s intricate Acorn 2005 (Lot 31 ). Examples by big name international artists, established Australian names, and younger and lesser-known sculptors fill out the rich sculptural offering.