One of Russell Drysdale's last paintings just sold for a record $3 million

Russell Drysdale’s Grandma’s Sunday Walk. Source: Mossgreen.

A late work by artist Rusell Drysdale has smashed expectations to sell for $2.976 million at auction in Adelaide on the weekend.

Grandma’s Sunday Walk, painted in 1972, was one of just 12 works his final solo exhibition in London and went under the hammer at Mossgreen as part of the estate of South Australian housing developer Alan Hickinbotham with a price estimate of $1.8 million to $2.2 million.

The $3 million price tag (including buyer’s premium) pushes it into the top six prices for an Australian artwork at auction. Three rival bidders pushed up the price until it went to an anonymous Australian buyer.

It’s rare for Drysdale paintings to come onto the market – for starters he often destroyed works he wasn’t happy with and less than 500 paintings exist from his 40-year career before his death in 1981. Late in his career, he built a reputation for a sparse, melancholic and ominous view of Australian life.

In the catalogue accompanying the sale, art writer Gaving Fry says “Grandma’s Sunday Walk contains the essential characteristics of the classic Drysdale – a set of recognisable outback characters in a landscape pared back to a few generic forms, which might be found anywhere on the continent”, adding that it “holds a special place in Drysdale’s oeuvre”.

It wasn’t the only artwork in the 258 lot sale to capture the attention of bidders, with a watercolour of Hermannsburg Mission, circa 1940, by the Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira with an estimate of $25,000-$35,000 selling for $99,200 (inc. BP).

The record for Australia’s most expensive artwork is Sidney Nolan’s 1946 Ned Kelly work “First-Class Marksman”, which sold in 2010 for $5.4 million.

Brett Whiteley painting “My Armchair”, sold for $3,927,272 at auction in 2013. Another Whiteley painting and two by Melbourne artist John Brack round out the top five.

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