Four of Fairweather’s paintings, all from the collection of renowned Melbourne modernist and close friend, Lina Bryans, will be offered at Deutscher and Hackett’s April auction in Melbourne.
Fairweather’s works are highly sought-after in the Australian secondary art market - demand that is fuelled by scarcity. According to the Australian Art Sales Digest, just 278 works by Fairweather have reached the market since 1967 – an average of just seven a year. Once they appear on the auction podium, the great majority of them find buyers; the percentage of works sold is 82%. Two paintings have achieved the record price of $960,000 (including buyer’s premium); Beach at Manicahan, 1938, sold at Sotheby’s in 2008; and Gethsemane, 1958, sold at Deutscher and Hackett in 2010. The four works on offer are priced for a less buoyant market, ranging from $80,000 to $700,000.
Lina Bryans was an avid patron and collector of Fairweather’s work. He lived in her famed ‘Pink House’ at Darebin Bridge between 1945 and 1947. Bryans was a leading light of Melbourne’s modernist movement and spoke in a radio interview of the need to be “free mentally and physically to express the truth as one saw it”. Bryans’ commitment to instinctive artistic expression had a strong influence on Fairweather’s artistic development.
The four paintings that will be auctioned at Deutscher and Hackett all date to the late 1930s and early 1940s, and feature the explicit figuration that is characteristic of his early work. As Fairweather himself wrote: “I don’t feel I am a complete abstractionist – I still like – perhaps mistakenly in this age of collectivism – to retain some relic of subjective reality.” Amongst the collection is Boats at Soochow Creek, 1938 (estimate: $500,000-700,000), a work that features in Murray Bail’s 1994 monograph. Bryan’s friend Jock Frater painstakingly flattened five paintings over several months after being sent by Fairweather from Manila in a homemade bamboo crate. In a 1937 review in the New Statesman, Fairweather’s oil paintings from this period were described as capturing a ‘powdery, butterfly-scale beauty, like old brocade or the most expensive of Paisley patterned silks.’
The rarity of Fairweather’s work is explained, in part, by the idiosyncratic techniques he employed when painting. He abandoned oil painting in 1940 after suffering severe lead poisoning. In desperation, Fairweather experimented with a wide range of different mediums – casein, clag, soap, and even the impossible combination of oil and water – but they were totally unsuitable given his preference for heavy impasto and continuous overpainting. Given that his support of choice was most often cardboard and paper, it’s not surprising that most of the works prior to 1958, when he began to use rapid-drying plastic mediums, simply disintegrated.
Deutscher and Hackett will auction the Fairweather paintings in Melbourne on Wednesday 24 April at 7pm after previews in Sydney (Thursday 11 – Sunday 14 April) and Melbourne (Thursday 18 – Tuesday 23 April).