The late, expatriate Australian painter Jeffrey Smart described his 1969 work Morning Practice, Baia, as “one of my best paintings ever”. It’s also a popular one, with his estate producing 499 giclée prints of the image following the artist’s death two years ago, aged 91.
Now the original work is coming onto the auction market for the first time since it was sold to an American collector 45 years ago.
Sotheby’s Australia is selling the work at its Important Australian Art auction in Sydney in August and estimates the price at $550,000 to $750,000. A preliminary study for the work sold for $90,000 in 2012. Two months ago the auction house sold his work The Bicycle Race (Death of Morandi) for $512,400 and his 2003 work The Red Warehouse (2003) for $878,400 last year.
When the work made a rare public appearance at a 2012 retrospective, sparking fresh interest, former NSW Art Gallery curator Barry Pearce described Morning Practice, Baia, as “disarmingly simple” and central to Smart’s career as “an essential image of the artist himself”.
“A man practises with geometry, fascinated by its capacity to measure the meaning of existence, whilst enjoying life-enhancing sunlight illuminating the modern walls of what used to be an ancient fleshpot of the Roman Empire on the Bay of Naples,” Pearce said.
Another expatriate Australian, Clive James, said of Smart: “If there is an endemic Australian quality, it might be in the confidence with which he not only combines the functional exuberance of modern industrial life with the iconography of the past, but equalises and balances those two things, so that a Matisse poster in the context of an Australian suburb becomes more lyrical than ever.”
For the catalogues and auction details, visit the Sotheby’s Australia website.