Australia’s art auctioneers have become experts at recycling. Once upon a time, paintings that went under the hammer and did not sell were locked away for anything up to 10 years before they were ever offered again. These days, unsold works are likely to reappear in another saleroom’s catalogue just months after failing to find a buyer.
With the advent of several new salerooms coupled with an increasing shortage of top-quality paintings, auctioneers have been knocking on collectors’ doors begging for pictures whether or not they’ve just been bought or couldn’t find a buyer at a recent sale. Next week, four auctions of art works will be held — two in Sydney and two in Melbourne — with most interest focusing on Deutscher and Hackett’s first sale, in Melbourne, and Sotheby’s hoped-for $13 million extravaganza in Sydney.
The catalogues of these two sales include many pictures that have been up for auction in the recent past. Not surprisingly, Sotheby’s tends to re-offer paintings the firm has sold before while Deutscher and Hackett have obviously kept tabs on the collectors who bought works from the saleroom where both worked for years — Deutscher-Menzies. The auctioneers clearly believe the current art market boom means that many of these born-again pictures will show huge price rises — or at least they’ve convinced the owners that this is likely.
One of Deutscher and Hackett’s top paintings, a 1964 work by Sidney Nolan of Burke and Wills, sold at Deutscher-Menzies in 2002 for $175,000 but now carries an estimate of $250-$300,000. An Albert Tucker portrait of a girl that went to a collector at Christie’s in 1975 for $1600 is estimated to fetch up to $90,000 while a 1964 Jeffrey Smart of Piraeus that sold for $12,000 at Sotheby’s in 1985 now carries a $150-$200,000 estimate
Similarly Sotheby’s have an Arthur Boyd of Eaglehawk that was part of the ICI art collection, until Kerry Stokes bought the lot for some $13 million and then sold off the pictures he didn’t want, including the Boyd. When Sotheby’s offered that painting in 2002, it fetched $158,250 whereas now the firm estimates it could exceed that by $100,000. Another Boyd, from his bride series, sold for $110,500 at Sotheby’s in 2001 whereas the top estimate at next Monday’s sale is $180,000 while a Charles Blackman, Star Gazer, that went for $89,400 at Sotheby’s in 2000 could nearly double that sum.
Then again, not everything is expected to show these sorts of increases. Deutscher-Menzies sold a John Perceval of Williamstown three years ago for $45,400 and now Deutscher and Hackett reckon the same picture could bring a mere $48-$55,000 at their sale next Wednesday. The two refugees from cleaning magnate Rod Menzies’ firm are no doubt desperately hoping their top picture, a colonial painting by British artist Robert Dowling of a group of Western District children with their Aboriginal servant, will reach the top estimate of $650,000.
That, however, looks like small change besides Sotheby’s top lot among the 22 works from the Qantas collection — Brett Whiteley’s painting of the Opera House, which the firm estimates could set a new Australian record and reach $3 million.