By Briar Williams in Auckland, on 25-Mar-2021

The Important Paintings and Contemporary Art Sale at Art + Object had the first date in a week of sales taking place in Auckland and considering the high quality of the selections of works on offer, this was probably a good call.  For those clients who patronise all three auction houses, it can be a bit of a juggle to decide bidding priorities, and big purchases early on can deplete the funds for works being sold later in the cycle.  Some could argue that the client base is quite different between the three businesses and this may not be a problem and certainly Webb’s looks like they are subscribing to that philosophy, their opening night preview for their Works of Art Sale was held on the same night and time as the Art + Object auction.

The Art + Object sale of Important Paintings and Contemporary Art was the first sale in a week of sales taking place in Auckland. and considering the high quality of the selections of work on offer, this was probably a good call. Lot 59, Colin McCahon’s South Canterbury Landscape (above), sold to an online bidder for $260,000, which was $10,000 over the low estimate.

The Art + Object catalogue contained a very good selection of fresh to the market major works and a few familiar faces back on the block again, but estimates were reasonable and stock varied with an emphasis on domestic scale sculpture and studio glass to round out the sale.

The first 20 lots came from the Ellipsis Art Group which was a collection of varying quality as is often the case with art groups with so many different opinions and tastes doing the buying within the 10 year cycle.  The usual inclusions which are featured within most art group collections, Sam Mitchell Untitled (Lot 11 ) went unsold and Gavin Hurley Practice (Lot 13 ) which sold on low estimate for $4,000. Paintings from the collection which sold well were the more adventurous choices including Jack Trolove’s thickly painted gestural portrait titled Abrir (Lot 7 ) which sold for $18,000 against a $10,000 low estimate and Johl Dwyer’s harmonious Magenta Reef (Lot 5 ) for $7,750.

Fourteen lots from the former Wellington gallerist Janne Land came next and despite exhibiting some of New Zealand’s best contemporary painters of the period at the height of their careers including Tony Fomison and Philip Clairmont, the works offered in this collection were more modest in stature but very interesting and in the small market of New Zealand where the offerings can feel a bit same -same, that counts for a lot.  Two photographs by important American photographer Edward Weston Nude on Sand, Oceano 1936 (Lot 21 ) and Nude 62 N Dancer’s Knees, 1927 (Lot 22 ) realised $5,000 and $6,000 respectively.  An early abstract work by Michael Hight, Patea Descendent (Lot 29 ) stylistically the total opposite of his well known chocolate box paintings of beehives in set in picturesque landscape, sold strongly at $9,000 against a $7,000 low estimate. Two previous works from this period have also sold well over estimate in recent years so perhaps this shouldn’t have been a surprise. A very beautiful bronze sculpture by Terry Stringer The Lady and the Swan (Lot 33 ) measuring 67 cm high, which would fit perfectly on an hall table in Auckland’s  affluent eastern suburbs sold for $10,500 against a low estimate of $5,000 and an even smaller work by Paul Dibble Antics from the High Country (Lot 34 ) made even more at $14,250 against an $8,000 reserve.

At this, the midway point of the sale, it was clear that the internet was going to be a force to be reckoned with during the sale, as the interest and bidding levels coming from online was huge.  I was watching online while watching the sale live and it was clear at the rate the bidding increments were moving online that there were multiple bidders online per lot by contrast the phone bidding was quiet.  Full credit to auctioneer Ben Plumbly who managed to keep the auction moving at a good pace which is difficult do with so much online bidding.    Up until this point of the sale, the price points had been at the lower end of the sale, however moving into the key lots with the large estimates this didn’t change in the slightest.

A small rare oil painting by one of New Zealand’s most significant and important artists Rita Angus was the first work to sell for a high price to an online bidder. Hill Landscape, North Canterbury 1934  (Lot 58 ) dates from an important period within her practice, and oil paintings from this time are rarely seen on the open market.  In fact a quick search of AASD shows that the last 1930s landscape was offered in 2004.   Hill Landscape estimated at $65,000 – $85,000 opened at $50,000 and went between the phone and internet to land at $70,000 to the online bidder.  This was the buy of the night and on a different day this could have been a very different (and higher) result.

A familiar painting appeared at lot 59 (Lot 59 ), Colin McCahon’s South Canterbury Landscape.  Familiar both as an instantly recognisable South Canterbury landscape painting by the artist, perhaps the most famous from this series with its elliptical sun sitting above the rolling hills. Some might remember the painting from A+O’s McCahon Centenary auction in 2019 when it went unsold at $300,000.  This time with the estimate reduced by $50,000, it sold, once again to an online bidder for $260,000, $10,000 over the low estimate.

Recent record setting results by A+O for Michael Parekowhai’s major works have been a drawcard for more work to come to market, and one of his most sought after works from the Kapa Haka series came through for this sale, hot on the heels of Kiss the Baby Goodbye, a sculpture sold in November last year for $156,000.  Michael Parekowhai’s ability to question post colonial New Zealand society by combining contemporary cultural references with a sense of humour has led to these accessible works having a ready market at auction.  Fifteen Kapa Haka security guards were made and exhibited in 2003 and since then only a handful have been offered at auction.  This particular work was last transacted it in 2009 for $42,000 and against recent sales, the estimate of $120,00-$180,000 was reasonable.  Multiple bidders across the room, phone and internet competed strongly to take the work from an $80,000 start all the way to $172,500 amidst a round of applause and a new auction record.

That work didn’t sell to the internet, but the next work did, when Michael Smither’s Thomas with Beach Umbrella 1969 (Lot 63 ) from his all important domestic paintings series, was efficiently dispatched to the internet bidder at $170,000.  The highest price on the night, could also be the highest price paid to date at an auction online in New Zealand. Gordon Walters Mokoia (Lot 65 ) had been sold in the Les and Milly Paris Collection sale in 2013 and at that time sold for $354,000.  A private sale in between, had led it back to auction with an estimate updated for 2021 at $500,000-$750,000.  A low bid to open at $400,000 saw a bit of back and forth between the room, internet and phone to finally sell for $540,000 to the internet and set a new auction record for the artist.

Moving on towards the end of the sale, the enthusiasm waned somewhat with a more pass-ins and referred bids compared to the earlier part of the sale although as is usual with all auctions, the works in this section weren’t quite so tempting.  At the end of a very successful night, the A+O team were happy very happy with an initial sale total around two million dollars and were confident enough to send out an email with full results by 1pm the following day.  Obviously all the major negotiations had taken place and A+O will be pleased to move forward with a fantastic result into the rest of 2021. 

The auction total was $2,614 171 including buyer’s premium with 76% sold by lot.

All prices are in $NZ and are hammer prices unless otherwise indicated.

Sale Referenced:

About The Author

Briar Williams is an Art Valuer and Auctioneer who has worked in the primary and secondary markets of New Zealand and Australia for over 15 years. In Melbourne she managed a commercial gallery and was a valuer at Leonard Joel Auctioneers & Valuers before becoming Head of Art there in 2009. Most recently, she was the manager of the art department at Mossgreen-Webb's in Auckland and currently works as an art writer and consultant.