LONDON - Christie's announced the forthcoming annual Australian Art sale at King Street on Thursday, 26 September. Highlighted by a selection of long lost masterpieces that have been brought back to public view, the auction will showcase colonial, impressionist and modern paintings. Featured in the sale is Russell Drysdale’s great portrait of Old Larsen (estimate: £550,000-650,000), a headline piece offered that returns to Christie’s forty-two years after its sale in 1971 on behalf of the celebrated collector Margaret Carnegie at Christie’s Sydney, and will be one of the most eagerly anticipated lots offered at auction. Presenting 75 lots, the sale is expected to realise in the region of £6 million.
Nick Lambourn, Director of Australian Art department, Christie’s London commented: “We are delighted to present a carefully curated sale of 75 lots which includes masterpieces of Australian painting sourced exclusively from UK, European and American collections, with many works that have not been seen for a generation or more. We are especially thrilled to be able to offer the best of Australian art to the market in a month that will see Australian art in the ascendant again in London, with the opening of the Australia show at the Royal Academy the previous week.”
The sale is led by John Glover’s Ben Lomond from Mr Talbot’s Property – four men catching opposums (estimate £1,800,000-2,500,000), one of Glover’s great Tasmanian landscapes from the 1830s, which has come to the market for the first time since its inclusion in Glover’s 1835 selling exhibition in London. On long-term loan to the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh since 1989, it is expected to set a record auction price for the artist.
A fine self-portrait by London-based Huguenot artist Benjamin Duterrau, who, like Glover, emigrated to Van Diemen’s Land in the 1830s leads a small selection of portraits consigned by his direct descendant. The self-portrait (estimate: £120,000-180,000) was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1819 (as Portrait of an artist) and, subsequently unpublished, adds a fine swagger portrait of the artist to the artist’s known oeuvre. Further works by the artist, represented in the sale, include two portraits of the artist’s parents, painted in London, and a portrait of an infant of Van Diemen’s Land (estimate: £30,000-50,000).
Frederick McCubbin’s Bush Idyll (1893) (estimate: £1,200,000-1,800,000), is the last of McCubbin’s consciously myth-making Australian subjects painted on a monumental scale and still in private hands. Bush Idyll last came to the market in 1998, when it was sold at Christie’s Sydney for AUS$2.3 million, setting a record for any Australian painting at auction - a record it held for almost a decade, and one it may challenge again this year in London.
Further highlights of the sale include Fred Williams’ Lysterfield (1968) (estimate: £300,000-500,000), one of the artist’s largest canvases painted in the aftermath of the bushfires that threatened the artist’s home in the autumn months of 1968. Bought by the late Leopold de Rothschild from Rudy Komon in Sydney, Australia in 1972, and is now offered for sale by Rothschild’s Trustees.
The descendants of the Melbourne artist Louis Abrahams (the original owner of McCubbin’s Bush Idyll), have consigned a group of paintings formerly in the collection of Louis and Golda Abrahams. The group is led by Tom Roberts’ influential Whistlerian portrait, A Spanish beauty (estimate £70,000-90,000), and includes John Mather’s unpublished portrait of The artist at his easel (Louis Abrahams) (1887) (estimate £20,000-30,000), Frederick McCubbin’s The Slipway, Williamstown (estimate: £50,000-70,000) and painted tambourine, A nymph by moonlight (estimate: £20,000-30,000)
The writer and poet Al Alvarez was befriended by the Australian artists who came to London to work and exhibit in the late 1950s and 1960s. Blackman, Nolan, Lanceley and Boyd (and on occasion Barry Humphries then trialling a nascent Edna Everage) met up in a Hampstead pub on alternate Sundays and talked art and literature with Alvarez and Ted Hughes. Boyd became a neighbour on Flask Walk and Nolan and Blackman became close friends. Three Blackman paintings and two drawings (estimates from £4,000 to £60,000) from Alvarez’s collection recall their friendship and a magical era for Australian artists in London.
A further iconic work by Russell Drysdale has been consigned from the collection of the late American collector and philanthropist Allen D. Christensen. From Drysdale’s early years, his gouache The Rabbiter’s Family (1938) (estimate: £60,000-80,000), sees the young Drysdale assimilate, out of George Bell’s Bourke Street studio, the influences of Matisse and the Cossack expatriate Danila Vassilieff in Melbourne, in a work which precedes his final painting of the subject (The Rabbiter and his Family, 1938) now in the National Gallery of Art, Canberra. As Felicity St. John Moore writes in the Christie’s catalogue; “French and Russian sources come together in this historical gem to create one of Drysdale’s most telling and famous pictures.”
Two classic works by Jeffrey Smart, the South Australian artist who settled in Tuscany and would create his own very distinctive urban world on canvas over seven decades, feature in the sale: both The Owner (1964) (estimate: £100,000-150,000) and North Sydney (1978) (estimate: £100,000-150,000) have been consigned from UK collections.
The sale will also include two important pictures of New Zealand interest. Charles Goldie’s fine 1933 portrait of a Maori, An Aristocrat (Atama Paparangi) (estimate: £200,000-300,000) is the largest Goldie Maori portrait to come to the market in recent years. The portrait comes from the collection of the descendants of Goldie’s patron Lord Bledisloe, the Governor General of New Zealand in the 1930s. John Alexander Gilfillan’s large watercolour of Wanganui (North Island, New Zealand (estimate: £30,000 -50,000) depicts the young settlement in its early years in the late 1840s and shows a group of Maori and a settler, perhaps a half blood, and her child in the foreground, illustrating the early interplay of two cultures on the frontiers of European settlement. The artist, a Jersey-born Scot, emigrated to Wanganui in the early 1840s. His wife and three of his children were killed by raiding Maoris on their farm at Wanganui in February 1847, and Gilfillan would emigrate with his remaining family to New South Wales later that year.