By John Perry in Auckland, on 08-Aug-2017

All four of Auckland's major art auction houses have a sale scheduled this week in a clockwork-coordinated series from Monday to Thursday, .

How do they do it without treading on each other's toes, I wonder?

A year after buying the tattered remains of the Webb's auction empire, Mossgreen have certainly turned around the fortunes of what was once New Zealand's most prestigious auction house, with a number of very successful sales over the last 12 months.

Each of Auckland's four major art auction houses have an auction scheduled this week, one each evening from from Monday to Thursday. First off, was Mossgreen-Webbs with a 59 lot sale of 'Important Paintings and Contemporary Art'. A Michael Smither work from the late 1960's provided the real high point of the auction. 'Sheep of Mt. St. Bathins' contributed $124,000 to the sale total of $1.32 million.

Their Important Paintings and Contemporary Art held in Auckland on Monday 7 August was the smallest by number of lots in this week's flood of auctions, with only 59 works making the cut.

A crowd of around 75 people were present in the rooms for the sale and the auction got off to a flying start with a late period Colin McCahon drawing, from his time spent living at Muriwai Beach about 40 kms north of Auckland.

Jets to Cape Reinga (Lot 1 ) from 1973 sold well attracting some spirited bidding, selling for $28,000, it exceeded the top estimate of $25,000 after rising from an opening bid of $18,000

Don Binney's refined drawing of a large low flying Southern Giant Petrel, entitled Frigate Bird I (Lot 5 ) was the next bright spot as the price for soared well above the estimate of $8,000 - $12,000, finally selling for $18,500.

For the large and early works by Michael Smither, there were few bright spots. Three of this paintings from the 1970's marketed as ''seminal works'', recently repatriated to New Zealand from Freemantle, Western Australia failed to get within ''coeee'' of their presale estimates. As the vendors had lived with these works for many decades all should be sold in the usual post sale negotiations.

But a Michael Smither work offered later in the sale provided the real high point of the auction. It came from the late 1960's, work, Sheep of Mt. St. Bathins (Lot 36 ) which was painted when there were around 60 million sheep populating our rural landscape. The work was divided into two uncompromising sections, the top section mountain and sky, and the lower section with about 50 sheep, doing what sheep do, and that is eat grass. The grass in Central Otago is not the classic green grass we are noted for on this side of the Tasman Sea but more like the browner variety one tends to find in rural Australia, brown on an ochre soil.

Bidding for the painting started at $50,000 and rose to finish at $124,000, $34,000 above the top estimate of $90,000.

Snowy mountains and sheep, some would argue are two things New Zealand promotes in its the tourism marketing of this country's wonders. But the sheep population has been drastically reduced in recent years while the number of dairy cows has increased rapidly recently...but I digress.

The third Colin McCahon painting in the sale was the powerful and strong Visible Mysteries 4 (Lot 24 ) from the series of the same name from 1968.

Now McCahon is not everybody's ''cup of tea'' here in conservative conformist and complacent little old New Zealand but to the ever expanding and growing ''McCahono set'', he speaks with power and authority, and this work from an important series of works, is rarely seen on the market.

From the Gil and Pat Hanly Collection, the McCahon was given the full marketing treatment by Mossgreen-Webb's with an extensive 12 page publication, and a further 6 pages and the cover of the 103 page catalogue, so it was clear high hopes were pinned on its successful sale.

Attracting only 3 bids, the painting sold for $460,000 just $20,000 below the lower end of the estimate range of $480,000 - $700,000.

Other highlights were few, until another Colin McCahon, Annunciation, (Lot 48 ), an early work from 1949, from the collection of film producer of Once Were Warriors, Robin Scholes, went under the hammer.

A charcoal on paper, Annunciation attracted an opening bid of $20,000 rising sharply on the bidding, and finally selling for $67,000 well above the top estimate, of $45,000.

Mossgreen-Webbs have advised the sales total was $1.32 million, which pleasing for the first cab off the rank on a cold mid-winters night, 7 weeks out from a major election.

Let's see how the next three nights fare!


All sales prices quoted are hammer and expressed in $NZ.

Sale Referenced: Important Paintings & Contemporary Art, Mossgreen-Webb's (formerly Webb's), Auckland, 07/08/2017

About The Author

John Perry is known locally as a collector / consultant / curator/ educator and artist and is a former director of the Rotorua Museum of Art and History. For the last 20 years has worked as an antique dealer specializing in ''man made and natural curiosities'' from an old art deco cinema on the outskirts of Auckland. Over the last 16 years he has developed a multi million dollar collection of 19th and 20th century artworks for the Rotorua Energy Charitable Trust. He recently donated 120 artworks from his collection in various media to the East Southland Art Gallery in Gore. A committed ''art o holic'' he continues to develop collections of New Zealand and International fine art / folk art / ceramics and photography for future usage in a private/public ARTMUSEEUM of NEWSEELAND, not to be confused with Te Papa Museum of New Zealand.