Pro Hart, who died earlier this week, may have been a bush painter whose work has been more or less ignored by major public galleries. But lots of people love his work – and boy did he know how to make the most of it.
He succeeded in marketing the Pro Hart brand through his own gallery and memorabilia shop in Broken Hill, with a production line for the paintings, and with a network of distributors around the country. He was probably the most prolific Australian painter ever, outdoing even Norman Lindsay. Auction house supremo Chris Deutscher reckons there are “tens of thousands” of original Pro Harts on living room walls, in the artist’s studio and swirling around the marketplace.
Deutscher says that as a young dealer he scorned work by artists such as David Boyd, Hugh Sawrey and Pro Hart, but now he loves them because “I’ve got more commercial.” The section at the back of auction catalogues, where works by these “popular” artists are placed, usually sees an art auction come to life – with a growing market in Queensland, says Deutscher, “because they think it’s great art.”
And what about that production line, Crikey asked Deutscher, and sightings of Pro Hart signing paintings that had been completed by assistants? No way, he says. Pro was a one-man production line and a very efficient one, apparently sometimes painting a dozen images on one board and cutting them up afterwards.
But, says Chris Deutscher, “we don’t think there are fakes out there.”