Holt need not have worried. Though the prices were low for many, phone bidders recognized those of quality, and important early works sold for $138,000 (Lot 1 ) and $156,000 (Lot 2 ). Many of the lesser paintings had done the rounds before. Holt had been inclined to set low estimates and let the market decide their value. Though several were passed in, offers made during the sale ensured that 17 of the 20 found new homes.
While it had not featured on the cover of the catalogue, the most important lot in this sale by far was a wonderful and rare 1881 sketchbook containing 14 images in black and blue ink on paper by the Aboriginal stockman Tommy McRae (Lot 21 ). The sketchbook had been kept in pristine condition in the one family as it moved over three continents during the last 132 years. There were several bidders with the eventual winner taking home this most rare and perfect prize for $228,000.
The other star performer on the night was the lovely large Fish, Barmah Forest, c 1994 (Lot 26 ) by Yorta Yorta artist Lin Burralung Onus. It was a mighty catch at $294,000 and did the artist’s estate an enormous service. This is the highest price ever paid at auction for a work by Onus of this size. It eclipsed the $288,000 paid for Fish and Storm Clouds (Guyi Na Ngawalngawal), 1994 at Lawson-Menzies in May 2007, just six months prior to the onset of the GFC. Onus’s prices have languished slightly since then with several major works selling just below $200,000. His record price at auction was $396,000 set for a slightly larger work by Deutscher-Menzies at the market peak in 2006.
Overall this sale did very well, and Deutscher and Hackett have every reason to be pleased. It sold 78 % by volume and 85% by value, netting $1.782,840 including buyers premium. A pretty good night’s haul for a boutique sale with just 100 lots. Just the tonic the market needed to add further value to the successful Laverty sale at Bonham’s. Bidders at both sales were thin in the room. Thank god for the phones and internet bidding. They appeared to carry the day.