By Sophie Ullin, on 15-Nov-2011

Sotheby’s Australia are closing their first year under new ownership year with a sixty-four lot “bijoux” November sale carrying a $4 million low estimate.  Amongst the offerings are highlights gleaned from the Irvin Rockman collection and a smattering of repatriated works.

Russell Drysdale’s character portrait 'Gran' (1971) from the collection of the late Irvin Rockman is the highest value painting of the night and graces the front cover, offered for the first time in forty years since its acquisition from Joseph Brown.

Chrysanthemums c1890 by Ellis Rowan (Lot 11 ), estimated at $40,000-60,000  is one such painting returning home after a century on foreign shores.  Arguably, as an artist best known for her botanical watercolours, Chrysanthemums painted in oil provides a welcome adventure into the decorative realm.

Pot Plant c1957  (Lot 64 ) estimated at $80,000-120,000 may also disrupt expectations for lovers of John Brack more accustomed to his wry observations of Melbourne life, nudes, marching pencils and the like. Dr David Hansen’s catalogue entry speaks of Brack’s floral still lifes, (which were few in number), being “quiet experiments in perception “and describes them as overlooked. Sotheby’s separate two-lot Brack publication that accompanies the main catalogue certainly seeks to remedy the situation by placing the still life genre centre stage in an effort to refocus public interest.

The companion lot in the mini catalogue of two hitherto unseen but recorded works is Three Horses 1956 (Lot 63 ).  Brack never developed the subject into oil paintings and with less than two dozen works in the watercolour series the house has pitched it at $100,000-150,000.

Russell Drysdale’s  character portrait Gran (1971) from the collection of the late Irvin Rockman graces the front cover with a $800,000–1,000,000 price tag (Lot 14 ).  It is the highest value painting of the  night and is offered for the first time in forty years since its acquisition from Joseph Brown.  

Following closely behind Drysdale are two large scale works by the naïve master, Henri Bastin, with similarly scaled price ambitions to match; Waterfall (Lot 18 ) and Landscape (Lot 19 ) carry low end estimates of $30,000 and $20,000 respectively.  So far, only 6 out of 324 works by Bastin have exceeded $10,000 IBP and most occurred at auction a decade ago.  However Waterfall has a lot to live up to - in 2008 at Sotheby’s it set an auction record of $49,200, an unprecedented amount and well above the previous boom-time record of $26,719.

A quarter of the sale’s success relies on the results of the following big ticket items: Ned Kelly in the Bush 1955 (Lot 26 ) estimated at  $280,000-320,000, Sidney Nolan’s first reprise of the seminal Kelly series. Sold three years ago for $288,000 IBP it is offered with a close range low estimate of $280,000.  Also Rupert Bunny’s Woman with Rose 1903 (Lot 9 ) estimated at $260,000– 320,000 ; John Olsen’s Wetlands 1985  (Lot 39 ), estimated at $250,000-350,000; Charles Blackman’s Girl with a Pram 1953 (Lot 33 ) estimated at  $120,000-160,000 and back cover feature, Akio Makigawa’s sculpture (Lot 41 ) estimated at 90-120,000 Garden of Desire 1995.

Complimenting Makigawa’s spiral forms and equally masterful in its form is Mask 5  1979 by Joel Elenberg (Lot 21 ) estimated at $60,000-80,000.  Another artist truly in command of his medium is David Noonan.  The Fairfax newspapers recently annointed him as one of the 10 most significant Australian Contemporary artists.  Noonan’s reputation barely needs the boost because his slow output combined with high international demand means securing his work is as rare as hen’s teeth, so Sotheby’s will be counting on a good outcome for Untitled 7  2008 (Lot 40 ), estimated at  $40-50,000.

An early rendering of an emu has been attributed to/or the circle of Captain John Hunter, colonial author of the Hunter Sketchbook belonging to the Rex Nan Kivell Collection, National Library of Australia.  While already in possession of a healthy dose of cultural weight the Emu of New South Wales c1790-1800 (Lot 51 ) poses an intriguing historical challenge and tempts with the promise of rich reward for the intrepid and committed researcher.  Surely a worthwhile gamble at $15,000-20,000!

Ethel Spowers’ linocut Wet Afternoon 1929 (Lot 7 ), estimated at $20,000-30,000 may transform into a sunny afternoon for its vendors if recent results are anything to go by.  Each time an edition is auctioned its value has sharply risen: D+H achieved $36,000(IBP) in 2008, Davidsons recorded $46,000 in 2010 and in April this year Christie’s London garnered an astonishing $79,815, rapidly doubling Spowers’ record.

However there may be dark clouds on the horizon threatening the potential for an impressive result. As luck would have it D+H's opening lot in their 30 November sale auction is the same linocut, at the same estimate.  Sotheby’s will be looking to the skies and hoping that by getting in first, there will be no rain on their parade!

Sale Referenced:

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.