Speculatin’ on a Hypothesis

Uncategorized May 24, 2005 No Comments

The sale last night of the Fosters collection by Sotheby’s does little to disprove the notion that if you’re after sentimental Australiana, you’d better be prepared to fork out the big bucks. With a brace of works by blue chip investment artists including Conrad Martens, John Glover, Eugene von Guerard, Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin, Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd and Russell Drysdale, everyone but the most cashed up and determined bidders were locked out. Most of the media attention has gone to the sale of Streeton’s 1890 painting, Sunlight Sweet Coogee which went for $2,038,300. Although falling short of the record for McCubbin’s Bush Idyll that fetched $2.3 million it was still a pretty amazing result.

Record prices were paid last night for the works of 14 artists, including an artist record of nearly $2.04 million for an 1890 painting by Arthur Streeton of a coastal cliff scene Sunlight Sweet, Coogee in Sydney. The highest price for any Australian painting at auction is $2.3 million for Fred McCubbin’s Bush Idyll, which sold in 1998.

Two McCubbins fetched high prices last night: the artist’s 1917 painting of the Yarra River from Kensington Road, South Yarra, raised $1.03 million, while his 1911 painting Evening in the Bush sold for $875,000.

As was pointed out to us (see below), the Sotheby’s sale of the Fosters collection had what would be considered by some to be the more “significant” items in this round of auctions rather than the offerings at Christie’s contemporary sale. The prices paid for the Streeton and other well worn names of the auction scene would seem to back up that view, but it is an opinion that’s very short sighted.

While you may consider the sort of contemporary art being offered at Christie’s and elsewhere as somehow lacking in comparison to Colonial and Modernist masterpieces, the auction scene is a constantly narrowing market of diminishing availability. As the more desirable items get locked up for generations in private collections and corporate holdings, these kinds of sales become a rarity and so the market to what is available – art being made by artists now.

If there is any benefit to be had from auctions for living and practicing artists, then it is whatever flow on effect there may be from auction sales to gallery sales. While such a connection is dubious and hard to prove, it has been an argument made both by auction house people and gallerists. If resale royalty ever gets off the ground – and it’s certainly more of a pressing cause to be fought for than a standardised fee for exhibition – then the flow on effect would be real and beneficial.

The Art Life

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