Supplied, 4 August 2023

Fred Williams’s ‘Waterfall’ compositions of 1979-1981 have long been acknowledged as one of the artist’s most accomplished, sustained and complex series; a body of work that finds its origins deeply embedded within the history and development of Australian art as well as fundamentally inspired by the astonishing qualities found within the Australian landscape itself.

An impressive selection of works representing significant periods in Australian Art history feature in Smith & Singer’s upcoming Sydney auction on 23 August in Sydney. Among the highlights of the sale is Fred Williams’s magnificent Masons Falls (1982) (Lot 23 ), estimated at $2,000,000 - 3,000,000.

Arthur Streeton’s Evening Game 1889 (Lot 36 ) is a composition brimming with excitement and daring that represents a crucial and definitive moment within the history and development of Australian art.  This brisk, inventive and charming composition formed part of Streeton’s significant contribution to The 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition, held at Buxton’s Art Gallery in Swanston Street, Melbourne, in August 1889, that created tremendous controversy and heralded a decisive shift in the definition of art in Australia.  We are extremely honoured to be entrusted with the sale of Arthur Streeton’s Evening Game, an exquisite, rare and exceptional work, and one of only five securely ascertained by Streeton from the seminal The 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition – an event that altered the course of art in Australia – remaining in private ownership.

Wounded Bushranger 1955 (Lot 22 ), one of Sidney Nolan’s paintings of the Australian fugitive and outlaw Ned Kelly, is part of the most widely known series within the history and development of Australian art.  The first great reiteration of the iconic 1946-1947 sequence, completed largely on the dining-room table at the home of John and Sunday Reed at Heide in Melbourne, now resides almost intact in the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.  Using a bleached palette of light blue, golden yellow, pale brown, and grey pigments, Nolan creates the archetypal Australian bush landscape and a setting that is strongly reminiscent of his paintings of outback Queensland from the late 1940s.  It is a format to which Nolan would regularly return over ensuing decades, paintings in which a rapid, instinctive, gestural-expressionist treatment of the Australian landscape is anchored by the iconographical weight of the Kelly figure, or conversely, in which the historically, autobiographically, even politically loaded Kelly signifier is lightened and liberated by the untidy infinity of the bush.

Rosalie Gascoigne’s Marmalade 1989-1990 (Lot 21 ), from the collection of Cate Blancett AC and Andrew Upton, is a work dazzlingly rich in its scale and impact.  It made its public debut in 1990 at in The Readymade Boomerang: Certain Relations in 20th Century Art, The Eighth Biennale of Sydney at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Rosalie Gascoigne’s cunning formalist assemblages are made from many and varied objects – kewpie dolls, shells, enamelled metal utensils, thistle stalks, feathers, corrugated iron, linoleum, the worn timbers of apiary boxes, drink crates, cable reels and plywood form boards – but perhaps the most original and certainly the most popular of all her materials are the retro-reflective road signs.

Mask 1 (1978) (Lot 20 ), by Joel Elenberg, is certainly a powerful, haunting work. The mask is mysterious, even alienating, abstracted to the highest degree, presenting nothing but almond eye holes and central nasal ridge line.  There is a curious contrast between the highly polished face and the Michelangelo or Rodin style unfinished, tooth-chiselled supporting neck or hair or veil or hand.  Most of all, there is the work’s odd weightlessness, with the neck off-centre on the marble base and the head floating beyond the edge of base and plinth.  As much a thought bubble or a punctuation mark as a human presence, Mask 1 is a strange and unsettling object, and one of the artist’s best-known and most admired compositions.

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