By Terry Ingram, on 23-Jul-2014

Sotheby's Australia's most formidable Australian art auction specialist team appears to have missed or passed over an important link in contextualising one of the most tantalising of the lots in its sale of art and design on Melbourne on July 29, writes Terry Ingram.

Sotheby's "Artist Unknown" painting above and the coloured wood engraving "after" Oswald Rose Campbell' s most famous image, below. Catalogue arguably missed noteworthy link to Victorian artist.

Edwin Stocquelor is mentioned as well as Edward Roper in notes on the lot prepared by the company.

But there is no mention of Oswald Rose Campbell (1820-1887) who was the most famous purveyor of the image it depicts (gold panning)  known to the Australian saleroom and which was used as the basis for a coloured engraving published in 1870.

There is no suggestion that lot 241, catalogued as “Artist Unknown (Panning for Gold) circa 1890s (top left)  is by Campbell and as Dr David Hansen of Sotheby's points out in the notes the composition of the three gold miners has come currency in Australian art.


But because the poses and most of the details are the same as those in a coloured woodcut verified as after his work, the lot (bottom left) looks like an attempted copy with cutsy additions such as the dog and difference such as the bushy trees. 

Campbell arrived in Melbourne in 1852 after studying in the Trustees School in Edinburgh and the Royal Academy in London.

He taught at the School of Design at the National Gallery and produced many moralising oil paintings and his work frequently appeared in newspapers through engravings by Calvert.

Campbell has been catalogued as the artist responsible for the watercolour Panning for Gold which has appeared on the market twice in the period covered by Australian Art Sales Digest.

The watercolour, signed and dated 1869, sold at Joels for $21,000 in 1982 and in Sotheby's own rooms for $39,600 in 1987.

It has also featured in an exhibition held by Christopher Day and is believed to have been handled by New Zealand art dealer Donald Cornes during that decade.

Coincidentally Sotheby's Australia's current offering is signed D.C. in the lower left. No one suggests however that Cornes painted it any more than Campbell did.

The lot is provenanced “Private Collection, New Zealand” and a dagger indicating GST is payable on the full hammer is printed against the catalogue entry.

(Physical) catalogue buyers are disadvantaged in relying on their catalogues for the learned words of the company's specialists, those of Mr Geoffrey Smith carrying much weight because of his several years as curator at the National Gallery of Victoria, as they are only published in the online version of the catalogue.

Campbell is named in an illustrated newspaper where the central image of the original work by Campbell was illustrated in 1870.

It is described in the "From an original picture by O. R. Campbell”. This helps endorse the authorship of the watercolour itself which is not signed..

Copies of the coloured woodcut have been seen before on the market and is it is likely to have received wide circulation and well retained.

Sotheby's has an estimate of $8000 to $12,000 for the hammer price on its lot which is very rough hewn compared with the woodcut and the watercolours by Campbell.

In the notes on the lot which are only in the on line version of the catalogue Hansen mentions the illustrated  newspaper supplement but the newspaper's firm attribution to Campbell is not mentioned.

A comparison of the two works makes it more reminiscent of Pro Hart than the two artists Hansen mentions in the notes, although the Australian Art Sales Digest is not remotely suggesting it could be by this topical naïve artist.

Hansen says the canvas is Kangaroo brand produced  by London colourmen Lionel Nathan and Co.  between 1884 and 1900.

The estimate is a discount to what people paid for what might be Campbell's chef d'oeuvre and other colonial works in the 1980s but perhaps it is best that artistically the two versions of the same subject are not considered in the same context.

He observes: the work is an accomplished and highly finished work, rich in incidental detail. “Its mood of hopeful expectation successfully captures the essence of life on the Victorian diggings.”

Footnote: Sotheby's has now changed its on-line cataloguing of the work to Artist Unknown (after Oswald Rose Campbell 1820-1887)

Sale Referenced:

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