Australian art auction as unpredictable as Chinese markets

Sidney Nolan’s 1949 painting The Emu Hunt. Image: Sotheby’s Australia.

Like the wild swings in global stock markets, Sotheby’s Australia had mixed results at its August auction in Sydney on Tuesday night. The auction house cleared 67% of the 116 works on the block and fell short of its pre-sale estimate target of $5.9 million, reaching just $5.3m only when the company’s 22% buyers’ premium was included.

The biggest surprise was that a major painting by one of the hottest Australian artists in recent years, John Brack, failed to find a buyer. Junior Latin American, from his ballroom dancing series, had an estimated value of up to $1.4 million.

Another headline work, Sidney Nolan’s 1949 painting The Emu Hunt, consigned by Nolan’s daughter Jinx, sold for $950,000, nearly 20% above the top estimate of $800,000 – $1,159,000, including buyer’s premium – while Arthur Boyd’s Irrigation Lake, Wimmera (1980) changed hands for $152,500 inc. premium, well above the $90,000 estimate. Charles Blackman’s The Yellow Flower (1964), more than doubled its $70,000 estimate at $183,000.

Arthur Streeton’s small 1905 oil, Unloading the Bricks, Kew, was also hotly contested, trebling its $40,000 estimate to go for $122,000.

The other surprise was Sydney Long’s 1920 watercolour and gouache on paper, Flamingos, going for $134,200 on a $40,000-$50,000 estimate. Another Long, Kookaburra 1910, priced at $4,000-$6,000 went for $15,860.

Works by John Olsen, Bronwyn Oliver, Jeffrey Smart and Rosalie Gascoigne sold at the bottom end of their price estimates, but Smart’s Theme (1959), and Gasgoine’s Tree of Life (1994) did not sell. Another major Nolan work, Foliage (1953), was also left behind.

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