By Sophie Ullin, on 01-Sep-2011

Every seat was occupied, the air filled with expectation and curiosity, and a posse of TV and film cameras flanked the back of the room, poised to film the spectacle of lot 1 at Deutscher+ Hackett’s August sale. Pundits were confident that Currency was destined to sell, secure in the knowledge that an instant profit could be made at the $15,000 low estimate

A telephone duel provided one of the night’s high points,. resulting in Emanuel Phillips Fox Nasturtiums breaking through its high estimate of $480,000 to sell for $500,000

As predicted, lot 1 sold when a private individual beat the phone, room and an absentee bidder, to pay $17,500 hammer, which left him $1350 in the red. The artist, Denis Beaubois was there filming the event as an integral component of this yet unfinished work.

For him, the sale of Currency forms but one component of his performance piece. From a curatorial perspective, Currency offers a multi-dimensional dialogue and is imbued with rich meaning; however from a market view it was a rather anti-climatic and empty affair that set the work firmly in the 2-dimensional world and did not appear to transform the cash into anything other than debt.

The auction’s first 20 lots experienced mixed fortunes with a third passed in and a number selling below low estimate. The room was unresponsive to Brett Whiteley’s late work Wandering up to Montmatre in the Rain (Lot 6 ) and there were no waving paddles to greet blue-chip favourite, Jeffrey Smart’s Second Study for Matisse at Ashford 2004 (Lot 10 ).

In contrast, discerning collectors were inclined to snap up William Robinson’s jovial Farm Construction with Rosie Peeling c1984 (Lot 4 ) under low estimate for $115,000 and Lloyd Rees’ Song to Creation – Sky 1968-69 (Lot 5 ) for $130,000.

In spite of the patchy start, the mood in the room was upbeat and strong competition greeted a number of lots which achieved excellent results in a sale that totalled $4.5 million and 73% by value and 77% by volume, according to D & H calculations.

John Brack’s Woman and Dummy (Lot 7 ) boosted proceedings when no less than three parties contested it. Ultimately it was secured above high estimate for $525,000 hammer to Michael Nagy, presumably for an institution.

The art trade fought hammer and tongs for a rare and beautiful painting by Erik Thake, Brownout, 1942 (Lot 9 ). Lauraine Diggins prevailed acquiring the work for $190,000 hammer, utterly eclipsing the auction record of $44,000 hammer for Bathing Boxes, Flinders, 1930 set in 2007 at a Joel Fine Art sale.

Emanuel Phillips Fox provided another of the night’s high points. A telephone duel resulted in Nasturtiums (Lot 12 ) breaking through its high estimate to sell for $500,000. While the twin portrait, On the Balcony (Lot 13 ) did not arouse any bidding activity, it surely won’t be long before a new home is found for this unique, first chance-in-a- century; a hunger always exists for fresh and distinguished work.

Art characterized by a classic and conservative flavour from the 19th to mid 20th century continued to be embraced as a safe haven for collectors and a healthy $100,000 was paid for E. Phillips Fox’s Fairy Bower, Manly c1913 (Lot 14 ) and $36,000 mid estimate was achieved for Hans Heysen’s An Early Summer Morning Ambleside 1923 (Lot 19 ).

Horace Trennery performed well in the traditional corner attracting $18,000 for Mt Barker c1928 (Lot 81 ) exceeding the quote. Still life was popular, particularly William Gould’s Flowers in a Blue Jug c1850 (Lot 32 ) which also soared above estimate to sell at $28,000.

Margaret Olley’s Still Life (Lot 20 ) sold for a respectable but not speculative $50,000. The recession-proof nature of Arthur Boyd’s Shoalhaven paintings continue to be demonstrated with lot 23 knocked down for 20% above low estimate at $80,000.

The sale continued to be punctuated by some surprises in both directions. Del Kathryn Barton neatly put to rest accusations of her secondary market success being a flash in the pan. Last night, it felt like a step back in time…to 2007…to be precise when Barton’s prices accelerated often doubling and even quadrupling their estimates. The impressively scaled Keeper of the Polka-Dots 2004, quashed her previous record set for Please…Don’t ….Stop 2006 by 20% to sell for $160,000.

A pair of determined bidders also battled to acquire the trio of colour lithographs, That’s when I was Another Tree, # 1 -3, 2007 (lots 94-96). Each print was quoted at $3-5k which was in line with the original gallery price of $11,000 for the set of three. These estimates were obliterated, by selling for $15,000 to 16,000 a piece. By contrast, Girl as a Sorcery Figure was sold post lot  for $38,000 in the wake of some phone connection issues, representing far better long term value than the prints..

The savvy vendor of Girolamo Nerli’s Beach Scene, Black Rock c1888 (Lot 33 ) proved that there are still tidy profits to be made in a slower market. The painting was purchased only last year, as stated in the provenance, and at D+H they doubled their margin when the work was hammered at its top estimate of $70,000.

Deutscher + Hackett certainly achieved very solid and respectable results. At this point the lower price brackets continue to strongly contribute to sale volume and of the 118 works sold, 60% were hammered at or below low estimate which is not particularly surprising.

Of greater import is the fact that 24% of lots were sold at or above high estimate, offering real encouragement. When coupled with Sotheby’s results last week, there is renewed hope that these are signs of an upward trend.

The Age today reported that consumer spending and confidence are rising and perhaps D+H’s sale result reflects these improving conditions. Last night, it was quite apparent that the serious collectors were flexing their muscles with renewed vigour, (rubbing shoulders with the odd dealer or two, and institutions) and possessed a ready willingness to bid competitively, if need be, for works deemed special.

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About The Author

Art Advisor, Sophie Ullin, founded her consultancy in 2002 after many years of professional industry experience as an Australian & Aboriginal Art Specialist at Deutscher-Menzies Auctioneers and earlier at Lauraine Diggins Fine Art. Her services include advice, market analysis and valuations with a particular emphasis on Contemporary and Indigenous fine art. Sophie is a co-founder of the Art Consulting Association of Australia and an accredited valuer for the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program.