James Fairfax's art collection just raised $4 million more than expected for charity

Eugene von Guerard’s 1861 landscape Mr John King’s Station sold for $1,952,000. Image courtesy of Deutscher and Hackett.

The late James Fairfax delivered one final act of generosity last night, raising more than $10 million to help a range of children’s charities.

The former John Fairfax Ltd chairman died in January this year, aged 83, having spent 71 of those years collecting art by some of Australia’s greatest painters.

Last night, 54 works collected by the businessman and philanthropist by the likes of Sidney Nolan, John Brack, Jeffrey Smart, Tom Roberts, John Olsen, Fred Williams and Margaret Preston, were put up for auction by Deutscher and Hackett in Sydney, raising $4 million more than the original estimate of $6 million.

The top lot was the Eugene von Guerard’s 1861 landscape Mr John King’s Station, with a price estimate up to $1.2 million. It reached the artist’s equal second highest price, selling to a private collector for $1,952,000 (inc. buyer’s premium).

The night got off to a flying start when Lot 1, Roy de Maistre’s 1924 work, The Beach, went for $231,800 (inc. BP) on an $80,000 estimate, then that performance was pipped a few minutes later when lot 3, Grace Cossington Smith’s Still life in the window, 1959, sold for $268,400 (inc. BP) on an upper estimate of $90,000.

The generosity of the bidders continued through the night, with Ian Fairweather’s Temple, West Lake, Hangchow, 1936, a oil and pencil on cardboard, selling for an astonishing $549,000 (inc. BP) on a $350,000 estimate, and his work Christmas, 1961, going for $439,200 (inc. BP/ est. $250,000)

An early figurative work by John Olsen’s The Bicycle Boys Rejoice, 1955, went for $317,200 (inc. BP) on a $90,000 estimate.

Arthur Streeton’s 1897 work Minarets, Cairo, went for $976,000 (inc. BP / est. $500,000).

There were a few records too, with Russell Drysdale’s The Bar, Albury, in pen and ink and watercolour on paper, setting a new record for his work on paper at $128,100 (inc BP/ est. $40,000), nearly double the previous record.

Ralph Balson’s Constructivist Painting smashed the artist’s previous auction record at $585,600 (inc BP) on a $160,000 estimate, when his previous best effort was for ‘Constructive Painting’ in 1998 for $156,500.

Deutscher and Hackett’s senior art specialist, Henry Mulholland, who worked with James Fairfax for 20 years, and knew him and the collection well, said it was a “sensational” auction with record-breaking visitor numbers to the previews and then a record number of phone bidders alongside a packed room last night.

“Collectors certainly responded to the prestigious Fairfax provenance and high quality of the works on offer,” he said.

Proceeds from the sale will go to a charitable foundation to benefit causes Fairfax supported during his lifetime including the Children’s Medical Research Institute, Westmead Children’s Hospital and the World Wide Fund for Nature.

Fairfax had already donated his historic $20 million family home, Retford Park, south of Sydney, to the National Trust. It opens to the public soon.

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