By Petrit Abazi, on 29-Oct-2014

Last night Mossgreen held one of its most ambitious mixed-vendor art auctions in its ten year history. Twelve months since settling into its new headquarters in High Street Armadale, the auction house has grown in size and scope. The Fine Australian & International Art sale on 28 October 2014, with a pre-sale low estimate total of $3.5 million, was the highest value mixed-vendor art offering by the auction house to date. Although some exceptional results were achieved, the pass-in rate attested to the fact that the Australian art market is yet to fully recover to the pre-GFC economy.

Mossgreen's Fine Australian & International Art sale on 28 October 2014, with a pre-sale low estimate total of $3.5 million, was the highest value mixed-vendor art offering by the auction house to date. Hammer total was $2,475,000 with 136 out of the 226 artworks (60%) selling on the night. The star and critical lot of the evening, Frederick McCubbin’s "Mrs McCubbin Picking Blossom (Spring)" 1890, sold to a telephone bidder for $1.1 million, (hammer) just short of the low estimate of $1.2 million.

Included in the 226 lot, 149 artist, auction were two substantial private collections. First to come under the hammer was the Estate of the Late Alan Boxer. The majority of the twenty-two works from the collection of the economist and benefactor were mostly purchased in the mid-sixties and included important examples by Arthur Boyd, Brett Whiteley, Fred Williams and John Olsen.

Thirteen works from the collection sold including Olsen’s Portrait Landscape, 1961, (lot 22) for $65,000. Somewhat surprisingly, however the back cover illustration, Rita Nelson 1964-65 (lot 21) by Whiteley failed to attract any bids above $120,000, although auctioneer Paul Sumner was believed to be negotiating a post-auction sale of the work.

William’s Trees and Rock II, 1963 (lot 24) also remained unsold at $85,000. Though Boxer collected works by what are today considered Australia’s most iconic artists, his idiosyncratic tastes drew him toward examples which did not always find popular appeal such as Whiteley’s early and important, Christie painting.

Another major collection to be included in the sale was that of Sydney-based art dealer, and Paddington Art Prize founder, Marlene Antico. Scattered throughout the catalogue, Antico’s body of twenty-nine works found ready buyers and included what was perhaps the most surprising sale for the evening, Spanish Dancer, 1999, (lot 65) by the late Robert Jacks broke the artist’s auction record when it sold for $32,000 – over three times the high estimate.

What is even more remarkable is the fact that Spanish Dancer, 1999 has been offered for auction twice in recent years and failed to sell for as little as $5,000. The artist’s recent passing, coupled with his first major retrospective, Robert Jacks: Order and Variation, now on show at the NGV, may possibly have contributed to this renewed interest in the work of one of Australia’s foremost, and often undervalued, hard-edge abstractionists. Although Antico’s Arthur Boyd Landscape with Hunter, Crows and Dark Pond, circa 1962, (lot 68), failed to sell at $75,000, the vendor would have been pleased when John Beard’s The Rock and the Sea, 2006, (lot 144) doubled its high estimate and sold for $40,000 – the artist’s second highest all-time auction record, and whose top price was achieved only last month.

The star, critical, lot of the evening, however, was Frederick McCubbin’s Mrs McCubbin Picking Blossom (Spring) 1890, (lot 46). Purchased in 1982 through Deutscher Fine Art, Spring remained one of the most important McCubbins still in private hands, one which had never been offered to auction – its consignment rumoured to have been competitively bid for by other auction houses. With an estimate of $1.2–1.6 million, over a third of the auction’s value was riding on the one picture. After a slow start, two telephone bidders pushed the price to just under the low estimate and sold for $1.1 million.

The second highest selling lot for the evening was Concrete Forrest: Acanthus Mollis (Oyster Plant), (lot 58) by Ah Xian which ended at just over mid-estimate of $105,000. Mossgreen, however, will profit little from this work as it charged no vendor’s commission or buyer’s premium, with all proceeds from the sale going to support the Aboriginal Benefits Foundation.

Australian impressionists and modernists were met favourably with Arthur Streeton’s European works, Amiens Cathedral, 1918, (lot 43), and Kelso Abbey, North England, 1909,(lot 57) both sold, at $65,000 and $30,000 respectively.

Penleigh Boyd’s Wattle on the Yarra, c.1920, (lot 44) sold at mid-estimate of $24,000. Similarly, all three works by Clifton Pugh sold well, with, The Owl, 1977 (lot 5) surpassing the high estimate and selling for $31,000. Most of Nolan’s work sold including the oddly titled Suburb 1964 which hammered at just under the high estimate of $48,000. The selection of Indigenous Australian art was met with deep pockets with all six lots sold, including Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s Untitled 1994, (lot 91), hammering at $30,000.

Although the overall results of the auction by number of lots sold were somewhat patchy -136 out of the 226 artworks (60%) sold - the auction still generated a respectable turnover of $2,475,000 hammer, being 71% by value of the low estimate. Mossgreen are beginning to show signs of assembling bigger and better collections of works which befit the grand and updated former theatre – a historical building which has seen the sale of some of the most important paintings in Australian art history.

All prices are hammer.

Disclaimer: Prior to the sale, the author was commissioned by Mossgreen to write catalogue essays on four lots in this sale. 

About The Author

Petrit Abazi has thirteen years experience in valuing Australian art, having co-founded Abazi Art Gallery in 2004. An Honors graduate in Art History from the University of Trento, Italy, he completed his Masters in Art Curatorship at the University of Melbourne in 2013. During his sojourn in Italy, he curated five exhibitions on Australian Indigenous and contemporary Italian art. He has worked for several commercial art galleries and auction houses and is currently the Head of Art and Research at Mossgreen.