By Adrian Newstead, on 05-Jul-2010

Born in Melbourne in 1953, the urbane William (Willi) Mora grew up surrounded by art and artists. His father Georges and mother Mirka emigrated from France to Australia in 1951 and Willi and his brothers Philippe and Tiriel grew up in café society surrounded by many of Australia’s most important modernist painters and literary figures. Georges Mora, having opened Tolarno Galleries in 1967, and Rudi Komon in Sydney, were Australia’s pre-eminent émigré art dealers.

Having worked alongside his father for the decade prior to the late 1980s, Willi opened his own eponymous gallery soon after marrying artist Lucy Osborne. A developing interest in Aboriginal art led him to stage his first exhibition in this rapidly developing field in 1987. Over the following two decades Mora represented many of Australia’s finest Aboriginal artists and art communities. Initially trading from a warehouse style gallery off Flinders Lane, he renovated a space in the lane itself, before finally developing a property in Richmond, which became a purpose built gallery attached to a home for his mother Mirka and his growing family.

As they raised their two children, Willi and Lucy brought an eclectic group of artworks in to their private world from the hundreds that passed through their gallery exhibitions. William Mora is currently considered amongst the most elite of Aboriginal art dealers. A long time friend and associate of Sotheby’s Tim Klingender, his decision against offering his private collection through Sotheby’s was received with some surprise. It is also known however, that Mora has had a long association with Ian Hicks, Chairman of Deutscher and Hackett.

There are many highly desirable fine contemporary artworks and artifacts in this sale, however the offering is of a mixed and uneven standard.  It includes a large amount of repetitive material that lacks distinction and does not resonate with a personal collection. Many pieces could easily have been selected from Mora’s extensive gallery stockroom.

This collection is highly unlikely to represent the best pieces the family has accumulated over more than 20 years dealing in Aboriginal art at the highest level.  That said, the cover lot by Paddy Bedford, though small is highly desirable and seems well priced at $60,000-80,000. It has all of the textural qualities and appeal as Joogoomoondiny – Grawler Gully 2004, which holds artists highest record. When offered at Lawson~Menzies Sydney at the peak of the market (November 2007) that 122 x 135 cm piece carried a similar estimate but sold for $300,000 including buyers premium.

Paddy Bedford three small works in gouache on paper (Lots 15-17) are all very appealing and should sell easily within their estimated $8,000-12,000.

However, two Yawk Yawk spirit sculptures by the renowned Owen Yalantja, though magnificent, would seem over-priced on today’s market.


My personal favourite in this sale is the 140 x 100 cm work by Mick Jawalji (Lot 13 ). Jawalji’s paintings of this size are rare as most are considerably smaller. Though the presale estimate is a little stiff at $24,000 to $28,000 this is an exceptional work by an artist who was never prolific and is worthy of any fine collection. On the other hand, Queenie McKenzie’s Wirdim and Doolngayim Country c1996 carries a slightly ambitious estimate for the current economic climate.


Two works that would seem to be well priced however, are the large Moon Man Dreaming canvas by Nancy Carnegie from Kayili, and the collaborative work from Martumili entitled Canning Stock Route Soaks, 2007. Measuring 133.5 x 302.5 cm this work would seem good buying at $25,000 to $30,000.


The are 17 works which are the property of assorted vendors and amongst these my picks are the lovely Christine Yukenbarri Nakamarra (Lot 66 ) measuring 150 x 75 cm. which is estimated at $8,000 - $10,000; and Emily Kngwarreye’s very nice and well priced 1994 work A Ceremonial Expression. Measuring 150.5 x 91 cm this work carries Delmore provenance and represents excellent value at $30,000-40,000.


There are a great many early 20th century artifacts in this sale and, though few of them are of real distinction, the selection is strong and contains many pieces that are extremely reasonably priced.


Unfortunately this sale is heavily weighted with well priced but utterly ubiquitous and formulaic Papunya Tula works. The heavy emphasis on works shown during Mora’s White Shows held between 2000 and 2002 seems extremely odd given the promotion of the sale as the family’s private collection. . Other Mora Gallery favourites include Bidyadangaartists Jan Billycan Donald Moko and Daniel Walbidi and Kimberley dance master Roy Wigan. Walbidi is currently one of the hottest artists in the market but these are not indicative of his best works.


Overall the sale, worth $820,000 on low estimates, contains 162 works of which 140 are worth less than $10,000. Only one painting exceeds $50,000 in value, while 13 pieces carry estimates between $10,000 and $20,000 (of which 4 are from additional assorted vendors); and 5 works carry low estimates between $20,000 and $50,000, of which only 3 belong to the Mora’s.


It is a sale that is very comfortably positioned in relation to the current etiolated state of the market. Wiliam Mora provenance is very highly regarded by all major auction houses, and the Mora Family engenders a great deal of good will, most especially in Melbourne, With so many inexpensive works the sale should be highly successful.

Sale Referenced:

About The Author

Adrian Newstead co-founded Coo-ee Aboriginal Art Gallery, Australia’s oldest exhibiting Aboriginal art gallery, in 1981. He is a valuer of Aboriginal and contemporary Australian art accredited by the Federal Department of the Arts, and acted as the Head of Aboriginal Art for Lawson~Menzies Auction House 2003-2006, and Managing Director of Menzies Art Brands 2007-2008. Adrian Newstead Fine Art Consultancy compiles and maintains profiles, statistics and market analytics on the most important 200 Aboriginal artists and acts for, and advises, collectors when buying and selling collectable Australian artworks at auction and through private sale. A widely published arts commentator and author, Adrian is based in Bondi, New South Wales.