Oil price peaks as art imitates life $6.9m
Date: 19 Jun 2008 | | Views: 3556
Striking it rich in Sydney ... the 1954 Picasso Sylvette which fetched $6.9 million last night at auction, an Australian record.
Photo: Dallas Kilponen
THIS 1954 Picasso became the most expensive painting sold in Australia when it went under the hammer last night for $6.9 million.
The oil on canvas, named Sylvette, depicts a 19-year-old woman in bright colours and semi-abstract, geometric forms.
Sylvette was painted by Picasso when he was in his 80s and living on the Cote d'Azur in south-eastern France.
After a brief bidding war between two phone bidders, an unknown buyer snapped it up at the Deutscher-Menzies auction house in Kensington. The price included a buyer's premium.
Most Australian auction houses would send a work of such value to Europe or the United States to attract international buyers. But this painting belonged to Deutscher-Menzies' director, Rod Menzies. He paid $US4.6 million in 2006.
Mr Menzies, an aggressive competitor in the auction business, hopes the sale will boost his company's profits and reputation. "This sale does give us the opportunity to extend our bottom line," said Tim Abdallah, the national head of art at Deutscher-Menzies.
"There is a risk for the vendor [in selling it in Australia], but we want to explore the possibility of expanding our market by selling paintings of this calibre in this country."
To promote the sale internationally, Deutscher-Menzies spent $20,000 placing advertisements in newspapers all over the world.
"We had interest from a private collector in New York, from two sources in London and a nibble from Hong Kong," Mr Abdallah said. "If people know there is a well-priced picture on sale, the buyers will find it, no matter where it is."
The managing director of Sotheby's Australia, Lesley Alway, said valuable international works usually fetched more in London, New York and Hong Kong.
"That way they get included in major international catalogues and get seen by a broader group of serious collectors," she said.
By selling the painting in Australia, Deutscher-Menzies made it more difficult for international buyers to view the work before the sale.
"The home market [for a Picasso oil painting] is not here," said Michael Reid, and art market analyst and dealer. "But Rod [Menzies] has considerations beyond that. He wants an increase in turnover. He wants to be seen to sell major pictures and to add interest to what is otherwise a fairly run-of-the-mill auction."
The auction coincides with an exhibition of Picasso's work at Brisbane's Gallery of Modern Art.
Mr Abdallah denied the company was cashing in on the publicity. "We know that survey exhibitions can have a dramatic effect on prices, but the timing was just a happy coincidence."