“I didn’t think it would go so well,” Deutscher tells Saleroom. “But it’s not unreasonable to think of a top Preston at this price – and it was a stunning sight – when new works by Cressida Campbell are being sold for $420,000…. Preston is such a prominent figure in Australian art that she deserves to be half a million plus. It is a price adjustment that is long overdue.”
Preston was, of course, a major influence on Cressida Campbell, who also had a work in the Cbus auction, an early acrylic on paper that exceeded its high estimate by $2,000 and sold for $9,000. When the painting was last auctioned in 1991, it fetched $500.
The work of the Modernists was very popular, such as that of New Zealand-born Godfrey Miller. His cubist painting Trees in a quarry, created from about 1952 to 1956, exceeded its high estimate of $200,000 and sold for $380,000 (hammer). The painting, considered one of the reclusive artist’s finest works, was formerly in the Mertz Collection and has been exhibited in Washington DC and throughout Australia, giving it added prestige.
“In its way it was the most outstanding work of the auction,” says Deutscher. Trees in a quarry has more than doubled in price since 2000 when it sold at auction for $180,000 (hammer price).
Eveline Symes Tuscan landscape, another modernist work from the 1920s, achieved four times its high estimate and sold for $120,000. The painting is double sided, with a picture of Siena on the reverse, giving the new seller two paintings for the price of one.
Boxall Arthurs building of the Sydney Harbor Bridge, 1930, was sure to draw attention for its nostalgic value alone. It sold for $38,000 (hammer), more than double its high estimate of $15,000 and almost ten times its 1990 hammer price of $4,000. The painting was on long-term loan to the Benalla Art Gallery in Victoria.
“It’s a really impressive image of the harbor bridge, it’s a dynamic modernist work for a fairly humble realist artist, so again people responded to the energy of the image,” says Deutscher.
They also responded to Thea Proctor’s immensely cheerful words Ocean, circa 1923, which climbed $27,000 above its high estimate and sold for $42,000 (hammer). Proctor was a colleague and associate of Margaret Preston.
Lindsay Bernard Hall creates a far more reserved and shadowy ambience in his painting In the studiocirca 1924, but it too was well received, selling for $60,000 versus a high estimate of $35,000, doubling in price since it was last auctioned 22 years ago.
Hall was director and painting teacher at the National Gallery School in Melbourne for 43 years and this painting, as the title suggests, shows his studio in Melbourne on the south side of the State Library of Victoria. The studio’s large arched window overlooks the dome of the Royal Exhibition Building. Hall used fellow artist Septimus Power as his central model, and Hall’s wife Grace and their children are also depicted. And while we are busy making connections, Margaret Preston was studying at the National Gallery School, first with Frederick McCubbin and then with Hall.
The auction’s title lot, Sidney Nolans crossing the river1964, did not disappoint, rising $80,000 over its high estimate to sell for $880,000 (hammer price), making it a work of $1 million plus buyer’s expenses (25 percent of the hammer price including GST).
Arthur Boyds Shoalhaven Riverbanks and Big Stones1981, also performed very well, doubling its low estimate to sell for $500,000 (hammer).
But it was notable that other paintings by so-called blue-chip artists sold well below their low estimates, such as that of John Brack Three Egyptian women1975, with an estimate of $100,000-$150,000, but still sold for $80,000 (hammer).
“The sales strategy was to balance surpluses with shortfalls,” says Deutscher. “Overall, there were a lot more excesses.”
The bottom line is a testament to that: the sale surpassed its low estimate of $5.5 million to reach $8 million (Hammer), a healthy return for the pension fund, which decided in 1990 to put $2 million into Australian investing in art. And there are three more online-only auctions before the entire Cbus collection is sold. While Cbus declined to comment on the findings, Deutscher was unequivocal when asked if the superfund’s art collection was a worthwhile long-term investment.
“Definitely,” he says, predicting that the entire collection “will end up in the $11-12 million zone, not the $9 million we were originally talking about.”
What is clear, however, is that it pays to collect on a large scale if you want art to pay off as an investment.
“You get your ‘blue chips’ and your ‘tech stocks’, these are the speculative stocks,” says Deutscher.
Saleroom has been given a preview of two works in the next auction of 71 lots from the Cbus Collection Focus on Modern and Contemporary Art auction, which goes live this morning at 11am: Dick Watkins’ colorful abstract, scoopfrom 1991, and Tim Storrier is curious Kennel Memory IV – Red roof, 1987, both with an estimate of $15,000–$20,000. Bidding for the online-only auction closes on Tuesday, August 9 at 7:00 p.m.