Supplied, 7 November 2012

The sale of Important Australian Art by Bonhams Australia at the company's usual venue, the Byron Kennedy Hall in Sydney on November 19, is steeped in déjà vu and saddled with estimates in keeping with a different, more optimistic era.

But the brevity of the returning works' recent market appearance and the inclusion of some new finds may save the 53 lot $5 million to $6.5 million auction from the kiss of death that usually greets such offerings.

The most interesting find, from a private collection in Perth, is Rupert Bunny's Scott-Tuke-like oil on canvas, Boys Bathing in the Loire c 1901 (Lot 19 ). It was last sold in 1977 at Christie's and has not appeared on the market since.

A prominent group of paintings in the Bonhams Australia auction were in a catalogue of an auction held by its predecessor, Bonhams and Goodman (B and G), Melbourne in B and G's rooms on May 6, 2009.

Bonhams and Goodman simultaneously split into arch rivals Bonhams Australia (wholly owned by Bonhams of London) and Sotheby's Australia

It is no surprise that the group of paintings has turned up at Bonhams Australia rather than Sotheby's Australia.

It was the Sotheby's offshoot which secured a precedent-setting $731,000 fee for withdrawal of the then 20 paintings.

It is very rare for an auctioneer to charge a withdrawal fee, certainly of this magnitude, even if within the terms of agreement.

The withdrawn works, of which about 10 have now returned to the market in the coming Sydney sale, have the celebrity of works that have set a record of sorts without undergoing the disabling process that can accompany the fall of the hammer.

They have also emerged with the dinner table-tantalising provenance of the porn industry. They were consigned by Mimi Ange, the wife of a man who owned Sydney adult shops and was known as Sydney's porn king, Mr Con Ange.

The connection continues the new Bonhams Australia's links with profitable and unusual little industries. Its first big consignor was from the kennel industry.

Half a dozen of the other major works in the sale come from a collection or collections with which Melbourne dealer Ms Lauraine Diggins has been closely associated, and from which a couple of the stunners in the catalogue have appeared recently in exhibitions organised by her.

She has been very close to the collection of Melbourne stockbroker John McIntosh which is believed to be undergoing some rationalisation.

The works have become more familiar to potential buyers, and better appreciated, as a result of the exhibition exposure.

Some of the works including Tom Roberts La Favorita, inspired by a Donizetti opera, may be knock-out pictures. But “stunning” is a word which best describes the prices attached to the offerings from both collections, neither of which are identified by name.

La Favorita, a cigar box lid picture, is in at a $350,000 - $450,000 estimate.

It is hard to reconcile the $350,000 to $450,000 estimate on Walter Withers' Panning for Gold from the “Private Collection, Melbourne” with the $56,000 paid on July 1981 for the painting by Melbourne private dealer the late Neville Healy, in the Sydney rooms of one of Mr Tim Goodman's earlier companies.

But then so few works so quintessentially Australian of the early Impressionist period (it is dated 1893) are still in private circulation.

Ms Diggins was the 1981 under bidder and the work has since been in several sets of hands, including lawyer Mr David Bremmer's.

Whether any other of the big devotees of this sector from the golden 1980s are still active, is yet to be seen.

Expectations are that there are, given they have been lifted for works in both the major supply streams in the coming auction.

The “Ange” McCubbin, Midsummers Eve (Lot 33 ) is estimated at $1.2 million to $1.6 million against $800,000 to $1.2 million in the B and G 2009 catalogue.

It made a big splash in the press in 1905-1906 when it was still being painted but $1 million paintings were a hard-grind even before the GFC.

Upping the estimate, Bonhams Australia, chaired now by a veteran of the 1990s, Mr Mark Fraser, may know something we do not, perhaps a rare overlooked dash of prosperity in the public sector. 

It is to wholly fresh-to-the-market offerings that buyers might look to more attractively priced offerings.

The catalogue includes some of these that have come via Bonhams' overseas connections. The finds include two Ceylonese Donald Friend watercolour and gouaches at $1200 to $2500. These have come out of a private collection in Yorkshire and are a gift at the price.

They are a very observant and lively image Thatching the Roof, (Lot 2 ) and an equally so but less desirable subject of an accident involving two old jalopies, and thankfully without a dead horse in it, The Accident (Lot 3 ).

Enjoying some fallout from a modest regional gallery travelling show, an Adrian Feint Roses in a Spode Jug (Lot 4 ) painted in 1956 should have no trouble in reaching its $5000 - $7000 estimate if only from an antique porcelain collector. It comes from “Private Collection, London.”

The most interesting find, from a private collection in Perth, is Rupert Bunny's Scott-Tuke-like oil on canvas, Boys Bathing in the Loire c 1901 (Lot 19 ). It was last sold in 1977 at Christie's and has not appeared on the market since.

A known departure from Bunny's usual subjects, the combination of figures and landscape in this work is not a perfect match. At $10,000 to $15,000 it should appeal to art historians and is certainly of more interest than some of his bigger paintings of women yawning.

Other works have been adjusted upwards since last being offered despite lack of clarification that the economy has significantly improved since 2009.

Of the “Ange” paintings, Streeton's delicate sun-dappled nuded Seaside Pastoral is now at $150,000 - $200,000 against the B and G estimate of $120,000 to 140,000. Streeton's Venice c1908 (Lot 28 ) is also up from a low estimate of $60,000 - $80,000.

There has been upward movement in the Norman Lindsay market if the $150,000 - $200,000 estimate is anything to go by for The Pirates Return, previously $140,000 - $180,000. But there are only four Lindsays in this sale against 10 in the 2009 catalogue.

There is a touch of the 1980s about the estimates quite at odds with the gloom mongers who reckon 2012 is 1991 all over again


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