By John Perry in Auckland, on 09-Aug-2017

The second of four sales in a week of high powered auctions was the International Art Centre's Important and Rare sale held in Auckland on 8 August, and it got off to a good start with the first few lots selling well.

A rare and spectacular small bronze sculpture by Paul Beadle (1917 - 1992) of Elam Art School fame, and formerly Professor of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland, entitled Rooms To Let (lot 6) sold for more than double its upper estimate at a whopping $31,000.

Typical of Beadle's lost wax sculptures that were inspired by the figurative Ashanti gold weights from West Africa, of which he held a large collection, Rooms to Let established a record price at auction for the professor.

Highlight of the second Auckland art auction this week, held by International Art Centre, was the portrait of Auckland's founding father 'Sir John Logan Campbell at Kilbryde, Parnell' by Louis John Steele. Estimated at $300,000-500,000, it sold for $425,000, setting an auction price record for the artist. The 'Important and Rare' sale raised around $2 million.

There was a surprise result was for a small work by Michael Smither, measuring 35 x 41 cm, and entitled Winter Low Cloud and Mist (Lot 17 ) selling for $22,000 This work from the late 1960's was a good example of Smither working McCahon out of his system.

Felix Kelly was the next to impress with a work repatriated from the United States, Tram and Coolers (Lot 37 ) sold well at $24,000 against a presale estimate of $12,000 - $18,000.

The following lot, Sir John Logan Campbell at Kilbryde, Parnell (Lot 38 ) by Louis John Steele was what the room had been waiting for, and for me was the big surprise of the night.

By a range of various yardsticks, the recently conserved portrait of Auckland's founding father was a dark, heavy, overworked genre painting with everything in it including the family dog, but alas no kitchen sink.

The one bright spot in the work was a ''window of opportunity'' that opened out onto a classic vista of Auckland's Waitemata Harbour with Rangitoto, the 800-year-old volcano serving as a backdrop to Auckland's famous waterway.

Estimated at $300,000-500,000, and after unsuccessfully calling for bids at $200,000 but with none forthcoming, the auctioneer backtracked to $175,000 and it was then the bids started to roll in from all quarters of the room.... the old wait and see trick!

After what can only be described as a classic auction room battle did the bidding stop at a whopping $425,000. There was the classic triple whammy with Louis John Steele as the artist and Sir John Logan Campbell as the founding father figure of Auckland, plus the fact that it is a recently discovered portrait, resulting in what must be a record price for a portrait of a pakeha [European] person.

The previous highest price for a work by Louis John Steele was for The Launching of a Maori War Canoe sold by Dunbar Sloane in 2000.

In contrast, three other portraits of pakeha in the sale all tended to languish, including a portrait of (Sir) Ernest Rutherford (Lot 58 ) who famously split the atom and whose portrait adorns our highest dollar note, the red $100 bill. Painted at the height of his fame in 1925 this rare and fine portrait of one of our most internationally recognised citizens and beautifully painted by Walter A. Bowring sold for only $5,750, against a pre-sale estimate of $4,000 - $6,000... what a ''steal'' that was.

This was followed by another Steele, this a somewhat stiff portrait of a pakeha, Auckland Merchant - the Late P. Dawson (Lot 59 ). Estimated at $35,000-45,000 it failed to get a bid and was passed in at $15,000.

The difference in value between a portrait of a Maori and a pakeha is a gulf as wide as the Tasman Sea. Good Maori portraits are always in demand and last night was no exception when Time Tells - a Chieftainess of the Ngati Te Rori Te Rangi Hapu Of The Ngatiwhakane Tribe, Rotorua - Mere Werohia (Lot 41 ) by C. F. Goldie was offered. It achieved the highest price on the night, eclipsing Auckland's founding father by $15,000, selling for $440,000.

Some works from the legendary Denis Savill Collection found their way across the Tasman Sea, and one, a very fine Vera Cummings,  Chief Tamarere from Tawhitinui, Whanganui River (Lot 66 ) in an original Goldie frame sold for a record price at auction for the artist, at $27,000 while the previous lot, On the Waikato (Lot 65 ) a very beautiful study of Maori on the banks of the Waikato River by the acclaimed Walter Wright of our Wright Brothers fame, sold for a meagre $7,500, one bid below the low estimate of $8,000. Now there was another steal!

I came away from that auction muttering under my breath ''god dammit, fact is certainly stranger than fiction''.

The auction was peppered with a number of other highlights and with an on the night total of around $2 million everybody at the International Art Centre including the two Johnnies would be very happy.


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

Sale Referenced: Important & Rare, International Art Centre, Auckland, 08/08/2017

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.