Drysdale dances to heights but art market turns cautious
Banksy’s street glamour has set pulses racing at art auctions all around the world. But one of the incognito British artist’s most famous images performed like a lead balloon at Deutscher and Hackett’s sale in Melbourne last week.
The three-colour screenprint, Girl with Balloon, 2004, one of Banksy’s most famous editioned images, was passed in at just $300,000 after being estimated at a helium-filled $450,000 to $650,000.
“Off to the shredder,” auctioneer Roger McIlroy said when the work passed. He was referencing the self-shredding of another version of Girl with Balloon immediately after it was auctioned by Sotheby’s in London in 2018 – it later sold as Love is in the Bin for $US25.4 million.
On the positive side of the ledger for D+H’s Important Australian and International Fine Art sale, Russell Drysdale’s Children Dancing, 1950, (estimated at $1.3 million to $1.6 million) sold for $2,025,000 including the company’s 25 per cent buyer’s premium. (All prices in this article will be inclusive of premium.)
The price for Children Dancing set Australia’s year-to-date live auction record, but was still short of Drysdale’s personal auction record of $2,976,000, set by Mossgreen Auctions in 2017.
While the Drysdale was a success, overall the results from this sale and the Smith & Singer auction in Sydney the night before illustrate a market decidedly less excited than it was during the heady days of last year. Like S&S, Deutscher and Hackett saw several big-ticket works go unsold after concluding 75 sales during the auction itself – three works that were passed in were later offloaded in “private sales” with no recorded price.
Deutscher and Hackett report the auction sold 95 per cent by value as compared with its low estimates, but take off the 25 per cent buyer’s premium included in that number and it doesn’t look so impressive. The worst result of its six big sales last year was 110 per cent by value.
There were, however, some notable success stories. Reassessment of women’s artworks from the Australian modernist era continues, with a magnificent copper sculpture by Margel Hinder surging ahead in the bidding. Maquette (Adelaide Telecommunications Building), 1971, at 120 cm high, sold for $184,091, setting an auction record for the artist.
Maquette has worked hard for successive owners. It sold by auction from a private collection for $7176 in 1996, and was next auctioned for $41,825 in 2006. The work is now at the conservator’s studio for some well-earned TLC.
Another sculpture to do well on the night was Brett Whiteley’s painted bronze, Pelican I, which went for $662,727 to become the most expensive Australian sculpture sold at auction.
“There was competition (for Pelican I) from every which way,” D+H director Damian Hackett said.
Devotees of drawing will scratch their heads over the comparative prices fetched by two excellent works in the auction. Whiteley’s lively brush and ink on paper, Chimp, Taronga Zoo Study, 1978, went for $98,182. Fair enough. But it was hard to watch Lloyd Rees’s exquisite pencil drawing, The Wattle Tree, 1934, sold to a lucky buyer for just $12,273.
Mr McIlroy said the two Rees pictures in the sale were “in a class of their own”, and quite rightly.
A new artist auction record was set for Albert Henry Fullwood, a brilliant Streeton-era artist whose time in the sun is definitely dawning. Fullwood’s stunning watercolour and gouache, The Old Whaling Station, Mosman’s Bay, Sydney, 1899, sold for $159,545.
Saleroom is aware of one regional art gallery very disappointed to have been the work’s under-bidder.
The market does not seem to have reacted with frenzy to the death last month of the great John Olsen, although his works sold well in the Deutscher and Hackett sale. Wattle Pollen Time, 1974, sold for $196,364 while The Bath, 1996, cleaned up at $343,636. Tidal Estuary, 1993, set a new record for an Olsen work on paper sold at auction. The watercolour and pastel on paper sold for $171,818.
Cressida Campbell continues to be an auction darling. Bronte Interior, 2003, sold for $294,545 after fetching $104,318 through Menzies in 2016. And Guy Grey-Smith’s Karri Forest II, c.1976, set a new auction record for an artist who for a long time was relatively unloved. It fetched $116,591.
Photography was highly prized on the night. Julia Jackson, 1867 by Julia Margaret Cameron went for $122,727, while Merv Bishop’s photo-documentary work, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam Pours Soil into the Hand of Traditional Landowner Vincent Lingiari, Northern Territory, 1975/2021, fetched $34,364.
Among the disappointments, Ben Quilty’s 1.4 metre by 2 metre work in oil and aerosol on linen of grunty Mercedes, titled Want Want Want, 2006, stalled at $95,000 on an estimate of $120,000 to $160,000.
Charles Blackman’s Gladioli, c.1964, was passed in at $140,000 on an estimate of $150,000 to $200,000, but sold after the auction for $135,000.
John Perceval’s Boy Beside a Fruit Barrow, 1943, is not a conventionally pretty painting, but is closely associated with similar Perceval works in the National Gallery of Australia and National Gallery of Victoria. In this piece, Perceval depicts himself as a child against a backdrop of bombed buildings. Estimated at $100,000 to $150,000, Boy Beside a Fruit Barrow was passed in at just $85,000.
As for the unfortunate Banksy, Mr Hackett could only say that “the Banksy market is a very interesting place to be” and that other works from the same edition had sold in the recent past for close to $1 million.
There was, however, a happy ending. Mr Hackett reports that once the auctioneer’s hammer was put away this edition of Girl with Balloon did sell after all, though he would not disclose the price. Chances are it was near enough to the $300,000 where bidding stopped, and for the Brisbane vendor who bought it for about $100, that is the sort of very happy ending the secondary art market can deliver.