By Terry Ingram, on 25-Jul-2013

Interest in the pencil drawings appears to have sharpened lately as a result of the appearance of two rare caches of works on the Melbourne auction market. The interest is hardly a bubble - although a very rare early drawing of a "bubble" was included among one of the offerings – but they drawings created a buzz rare to recent mixed vendor art and antique sales.   

At a sale by Young's Auctions on July 12 at its rooms in East Hawthorn, Melbourne a poster by Melbourne artist Esther Paterson for Melbourne's Savage Club, known as Women Not Allowed sold for $2000. The title was a reference to attendance at the event and the notorious exclusive attitude of the clubs to women. Obviously the poster's warning did not apply to the buyer, or the market would have been much depleted.

The works auctioned were also modestly priced, maintaining drawings as a connoisseur pursuit which can provide an intimate entree to the artist's creative process. 

Sales by Young's Auctions on July 12 at its rooms in East Hawthorn in Melbourne and Tulloch's in Launceston on April 17 included two unrelated caches of drawings by the early convict artist William Buelow Gould (1801-1853 ) and the early plein art painter William Buvelot (1814-1888)

The Allport Library of the State Library of Tasmania has now emerged as the buyer of all five Goulds.  

The Australian art trade, including Ms Bridget McDonnell and Ms Lauraine Diggins were active buyers of the 10 Buvelots and other colonial lots including works attributed to S T Gill on offer.

The works had belonged to a mid 20th century artist John C. Aistell who appears to have an association with Melbourne's elite and arty Savage Club.

The early to mid 20th century collection of posters were signed by club artists including Esther Patterson, Alf Vincent and Charles Dixon.

The Buvelots were offered alongside a series of promotional original pencil and watercolour posters for smokos and other events at the club.

Dismayed to learn recently that a New Guinea wooden carved roof figure it had sold many years ago had fetched an astonishing €2.5 million at Christie's auction in Paris on June 17, the club sought to buy some of the posters for its archives but secured only one.  

Ms Diggins appears to have acquired both the most important Buvelot and certainly the most sociologically important of the posters.

This was Paterson's Women Not Allowed - a reference to attendance at the event and the notorious exclusive attitude of the clubs to women.

The 36 x 27 cm water colour poster. ‘Melbourne Savage Club, 118th Smoke Concert, 23rd Sept. 1911. Ladies Not Permitted’ cost $2000 plus the 15 per cent BP.

Obviously the poster's warning did not apply to art buying, or the market would have been much depleted.  

Esther Paterson was born on 5 February 1892 at Carlton, Melbourne, second child of Scottish-born parents Hugh Paterson, artist. The artist John Ford Paterson was Esther's uncle  

Sydney dealer Josef Lebovic left bids on all the poster lots but secured only one item.

While the artist who originally collected them is little known, the provenance of the joint offerings gave buyers some confidence as colonial drawings tend to be unsigned and entirely unprovenanced.   

The auction house only “attributed” the works to Buvelot but the quality and association appeared to be enough to produce prices of up to $4000 plus buyers premium for a 35 x 46 cm work which appears to have been a study for the artist's most important work Wannon Falls in the Ballarat Art Gallery.

Two works sold for $1,150 including a delightful sketch dated 1871 of a house inscribed Lilydale. Other drawings sold for upper three figure sums.

On April 17 Tulloch' s offered five drawings by Gould for a sketch book from which other drawings are known to be in private hands.  

Each measuring 9 cm by 15 cm, three of them were signed and these three recorded the highest prices.  

The hammer prices were $3000, $2000, $3200, $3000 and $1800 excluding the buyers premium of 13.75 per cent.

The top price was paid for a drawing of a man with a dog which is chasing a cat up a tree with a cartoon bubble coming from his mouth in which is written “Here cat, cat, cat.”

This anticipated the numerous bubbles that appeared in cartoons over the years and is very rare for such an early date.

While Gould's paintings of dead rabbits are numerous, the National Gallery of Australia acquired one of the three known paintings Gould did of cats.

Gould, born in Britain's Liverpool and transported for stealing a coat, was an incorrigible rogue and a drunk.  

His work was mixed quality and his best services to Australian art were boosting the tradition of the suffering artist in Australia and helping establish the still life as an important genre.

The Allport Librarian, Ms Caitlin Sutton, said the Allport was the natural repository for Gould’s works on paper.  

As well as the sketchbooks of fishes, holdings include one pencil sketch (The Eerie Tree) and the second largest public collection of his botanical illustrations (after the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery).  

“The sketches themselves provide particular historical research value in the evolution of Gould’s style, his choice of subject matter, personality, and development as an artist,” she says.

“Other than the botanical studies (2005) and the watercolour sketchbooks (1992), almost every other Gould work sold since the 1960s has been in the medium of oil.  

“This makes the collection of these works particularly rare; they were taken from another sketchbook though little else is known about the provenance.”  

The interest in drawings was notable feature of the response to the latest exhibition of Cressida Campbell's work at the Philip Bacon Gallery in Brisbane.

The as-anticipated sell-out show grossing nearly $1 million, consisted mainly of her keenly appreciated and sought after unique wood block prints and for the first time a group of five drawings on plywood which were offered - and also sold.

About The Author

Terry Ingram inaugurated the weekly Saleroom column for the Australian Financial Review in 1969 and continued writing it for nearly 40 years, contributing over 7,000 articles. His scoops include the Whitlam Government's purchase of Blue Poles in 1973 and repeated fake scandals (from contemporary art to antique silver) and auction finds. He has closely followed the international art, collectors and antique markets to this day. Terry has also written two books on the subjects