By Briar Williams in Auckland, on 03-Apr-2023

It was an unusual sight to see all members of the International Art Centre (IAC) team huddled around the phone desk looking stressed and no sign of auctioneer Richard Thompson on the rostrum at the scheduled start time of the first Important & Rare sale for the year. As those in attendance chatted, time ticked on and at 6.15pm the auction still had not commenced.
While a short delay to the start time isn’t usually concerning, (traffic and weather are the usual culprits) this felt different and at 6.20pm Richard Thompson advised that they were experiencing technical difficulties with the bidding platform. Not wanting to delay any longer, the auction commenced and the first lot was sold subject, but the back end issues on the platform continued, and Thompson announced a break for 20 minutes to see the problem could be fixed. By 7pm, it was decided to postpone the auction for 24 hours.


Delayed by a day due to technical problems with the online bidding platform, the International Art Centre's Important & Rare sale didn't disappoint those attending to view the sale of the Gottfried Lindauer's Harawira Te Mahikai, Chief of the Ngati Kahugunu Tribe (Lot 58 ). Pre-sale newspaper reports had the work selling for up to $1 million, and with spirited bidding from retired dealer Denis Savill and in the room, the work sold to a phone bidder for $840,000 setting a new auction record for the artist.

With so much auction bidding now taking place online, it was absolutely the right call and one has to feel sympathy for the staff who were fielding calls from confused clients wondering why they couldn’t get into the platform bidding, not knowing themselves when the technical issues would be rectified. Later updates via email and social media kept clients informed, with the issues sorted by the app developers later that evening.

Fast forward to 6pm Thursday 31st March, and it was business as usual, albeit with champagne and chocolates on offer which were greatly appreciated!. The sale started promptly with the works of popular later modernist Charles Tole all consigned from the same Auckland collection. Landscape 2 (Lot 9 ) was the best of these with its flowing almost geometric landscape and it slid in to sell on the low estimate of $20,000.

Another fantastic work from the same collection was John Weeks’ Figures in a Market Place, Morocco (Lot 6 ), definitely one of the artist’s best and most significant figurative paintings to be offered at auction. The estimate of $45,000-$65,000 was high compared to recent sales by the artist, but possibly reflected the purchase price the vendor paid when they acquired the work at Ferner Galleries in the early 2000s and the work was passed in.

By comparison Don Binney’s drawing oil pastel drawing of Piha (Lot 8 ) felt modestly estimated, the generously sized work had exquisite tone and handling of the pastel medium. Even without an obvious bird hovering in the foreground, it was well contested to sell for $22,500 against a $15,000 reserve.

Another hotly contested work was Jenny Dolezel’s painting Play (1) (Lot 17 ) which more than doubled its low-end estimate of $8,000 to realise $19,500. The artist, who was most active in the 1980s and 1990s has experienced a renaissance at auction in the last few years, with her paintings, prints and works on paper all performing extremely well. Without any recent exhibitions or public accolades to fuel this buyer engagement, it’s possible that her unique imagery is piquing the interest of collectors.

A recent dealer gallery move for Shane Cotton has seen renewed interest in the work of one of New Zealand’s most important contemporary artists. Cotton has moved back to Gow Langsford for his Auckland representation. Gow Langsford were his original dealer before he spent about a decade at Michael Lett Gallery. Although his sales on the secondary market have been hit and miss due to the lack of good works on offer, the good examples will always sell well. Many clients agreed over the desirability of Seven Sisters (Lot 27 ) which achieved $29,500, well over its $20,000 reserve.

Back again, after a memorable visit to an IAC auction in 2019, veteran Australian art dealer Denis Savill was in the wings, waiting for the star lot of the night, the much lauded portrait by Gottfried Lindauer, Harawira Te Mahikai, Chief of the Ngati Kahugunu Tribe (Lot 58 ). Lindauer, another European portraitist who painted Maori subjects in the early 20th century is often compared to C.F Goldie, but his work has struggled to match the huge growth trajectory that has occurred for Goldie, partly because there are fewer examples available on the secondary market. This portrait however was an incredible example, presenting with full frontal orientation and all the important chiefly accoutrements such as the huia feather, facial moko and feather cloak and which are considered very desirable in a portrait.

The highest price for Lindauer prior to this sale was $290,000 (hammer) and this work was always going to exceed that price. There was little doubt the work would make more than its low estimate of $500,000 so when Richard Thompson opened the bidding at $550,000, it was an unusual strategy of Denis Savill to appear from the depths of the auction room and offer a bid of $480,000. Thompson quickly shut that down, asking for bids in $50,000 increments which Savill rebuffed saying he wasn’t interested in paying any more.

The bidding continued between a phone bidder and a single room bidder. Savill joined in again, placing a bid at $750,000 and also spruiking his own C.F Goldie painting which is coming up for sale next month in Australia. This brought a laugh from those in the room; most of the attendees hadn’t experienced Denis Savill in an auction room and it’s certainly a unique experience! A new client joined the bidding at $830,000 via the internet before the original phone bidder was successful at $840,000 setting a new record for Lindauer, with a price of over $1 million dollars when the buyer's premium is included.

After the excitement of the Lindauer, the next lots in the sale re-created the feel of a saleroom in the 1980s as a number of historical works were offered including 13 works in a row by Charles Blomfield. The Blomfield’s were all from a single collection and mostly presented in their original gold frames. Featuring many of Blomfield’s  favourite scenes from his extensive practice, the highest price of $65,000 was achieved by a pair of pre-eruption scenes of the Pink and White Terraces (Lot 83 ) which was just above the low estimate but did represent a considerable drop from the $95,000 that was paid for them in August 2020 when the market was at peak levels.

An unexpected highlight towards the end of the sale provided a surprise for those still in attendance when Colin Lovell Smith’s Canterbury Garden (Lot 119 ) flew above its estimate of $2,000-$3,000 to realise $21,000, well exceeding his usual results, which are in the low thousands of dollars. The very pretty 1930s painting with dappled light and dabs of colour represented the best of his painting style, and it would be wonderful to think that the painting has ended up with the current owners of the house or a descendent of the woman in the painting.

Despite the complications caused by the technical issues (to my knowledge, an event which is unprecedented in the NZ art market) the auction performed very solidly. With the effects of consecutive interest rate rises, cost of living and general economic slowdown clearly starting to impact all area of life in NZ, it’s only to be expected that art sales both in the primary and secondary market will be down from the previous two years.

The first round of New Zealand sales indicate that the buyers are not being deterred by the above factors. Exceptional examples will still command premium prices, but prices for lesser examples or overpriced works may lag. IAC did well to clear 70% by lot and realise $2,276,775 hammer with post auction sales continuing. Great results for Brent Wong, Peter McIntyre and Max Gimblett in the sale, will continue to encourage clients to consign these works among others to market.



All prices quoted are hammer price and do not include the buyer’s premium of 17.5% plus GST.





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About The Author

Briar Williams is an Art Valuer and Auctioneer who has worked in the primary and secondary markets of New Zealand and Australia for over 15 years. In Melbourne she managed a commercial gallery and was a valuer at Leonard Joel Auctioneers & Valuers before becoming Head of Art there in 2009. Most recently, she was the manager of the art department at Mossgreen-Webb's in Auckland and currently works as an art writer and consultant.