By Terry Ingram, on 10-May-2017

Old timers attending a recent Sydney suburban art auction report feeling momentarily trapped in a time warp. At an auction held by Theodore Bruce in its rooms in Alexandria on April 9 prices of what appeared to be scrappy pieces of early colonial art soared in frenzied bidding to many times their estimates.

A pair of engravings by John Eyre (1771-?) sold for $50,000 (lot 10) hammer against estimates of $800 to $1200. With the BP and GST the total was $61,000.

Several other lots sold for much more than their estimates.

Old timers attending a recent Sydney suburban art auction report feeling momentarily trapped in a time warp. At an auction held by Theodore Bruce in its rooms in Alexandria on April 9 prices of what appeared to be scrappy pieces of early colonial art soared in frenzied bidding to many times their estimates.

Another sleeper was the Edward Dayes A View of Sydney Cove 1804, (Lot 2 ) a hand coloured engraving which made $16,000 hammer against estimates of $600 to $800. A similar medium James Taylor lithographed panorama of Sydney made $5500 hammer against estimates of $1200 to $1400

The Eyre was the main contributor to the $134,035 grossed IBP by the 40 lots of like material from the same vendor.

Two other lots were reportedly called to the same buyer’s number as the key lot.

Prices of majestic oils by colonial artists such as Eugene von Guerard almost always attract keen competition at hotel venue sales at the big end of town. But auctions, even when conducted by men in evening dress rarely produce such an unexpected display of cheaper works as seen on this occasion.

Bruce’s art specialist Sally Hardy said that estimates on colonial material had been too high, or so they were told, in recent sales so Bruce’s decided to take a conservative view when placing an estimate on the lots.

Several of the lesser lots failed to sell under the hammer but the response should bring some satisfaction for the extended Friend family from which they hailed and whose most celebrated member was Donald.

The most lively bidder was Sydney rare book dealer Anne McCormick, one of the few Australiana dealers that I have also seen at a stamp sale, such being the thorough scope of the ground the Hordern House bookshop of which she is a principal, covers. Melbourne dealer Douglas Stewart came to Sydney with a view to buying.

The Theodore Bruce offering, which was contained in a mixed jewellery and art auction, was a throw-back to the days when the antiquarian book trade ruled and Australiana collectors were putting together collections on the same basis as stamp collectors buying rare strikes or dyes or taking “one of these and one of those” to fill gaps

The late Joseph Brown also did it with artists.

The main gap on this occasion is very hard to fill, however, and those who should know say that restoration will not be a serious issue.

The two prints were apparently done by Eyre and engraved and published by the convict artist Absolom West while Eyre was in Australia, unlike the majority of those bearing similar images which were executed after he returned to Britain.

The pair of prints which sold for $50,000 were also views of terrain that are currently hot. They were A View of Part of the Town of Parramatta in NSW 1812, taken from the North Side and A Native Camp near Cockle Bay NSW with a view of Parramatta River taken from Dawes Point 1812. (Lot 10 ).

The terrain covered by the Cockle Bay view covers Darling Harbour which is about to be demolished, the Powerhouse Museum included, to make way for ever higher but slightly newer blocks of home units and offices.

The contents of the museum are being moved to a smaller building to be erected in the new western suburbs growth centre of Parramatta with the excess being presumably added to the overflowing store of the museum’s treasures on the North Shore. At an estimate of possibly $1 billion, the cost of the move dwarfs any excess seen in the art saleroom of late.

Little is known of Eyre, a wool-comber and weaver, before his arrival in Australia in 1784.

He was convicted of house-breaking at the Coventry Assizes in 1799 and transported for seven years. In June 1804 he advertised his desire to buy a box of watercolours. This ultimately led to the production of four plates now known as Eyre’s Views, in a number of impressions. The varieties are detailed in First Views of Australia 1788-1825 A History of Early Sydney by Tim McCormick.

Sale Referenced: Art | Asian | Jewels (Art lots only), Theodore Bruce Auctions, Sydney, 09/04/2017

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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