“I didn’t think it would go off to that extent,” Deutscher said. “But it’s not unreasonable to think of a top Preston at that price – and it was a dazzling picture – when you have new works by Cressida Campbell being pitched for $420,000… Preston is such a prominent figure in Australian art she deserves to be half a million and up. It’s an adjustment to pricing which is well overdue.”
Preston was, of course, an important influence on Campbell, who also had a work in the Cbus sale, an early acrylic painting on paper, which rose $2000 above its high estimate to sell for $9000. When the painting was last at auction in 1991, it was hammered for $500.
The work of modernists was much in favour, such as that of New Zealand-born Miller. His cubist-like painting Trees in A Quarry, created from about 1952 to 1956, soared above its high estimate of $200,000, to sell for $380,000 (hammer). Considered one of the reclusive artist’s best works, the painting was formerly in the Mertz Collection of Australian art, and exhibited in Washington DC and widely in Australia, giving it added prestige.
“Of its kind, it was the most exceptional work in the auction,” Deutscher said. Trees in A Quarry has more than doubled in price since 2000 when it sold at auction for $180,000 (hammer).
Syme’s Tuscan Landscape, another modernist work, from the 1920s, achieved four times its high estimate, to sell for $120,000. The painting is double-sided, with an image of Siena on the back, giving the new vendor two paintings for the price of one.
Boxall’s Building of the sydney harbor bridge, 1930, was certain to attract attention on nostalgic value alone. It sold for $38,000 (hammer), more than double its high estimate of $15,000 and almost 10 times its 1990 hammer price of $4000. The painting had been on a long-term loan to the Benalla Art Gallery in Victoria.
“It’s a really striking image of the harbor bridge, it’s a dynamic modernist work for a fairly modest realist artist, so again people responded to the energy of the image,” Deutscher said.
Buyers also responded to Proctor’s immensely cheery The Seaside, circa 1923, which climbed $27,000 above its high estimate to sell for $42,000 (hammer). Proctor was a peer and colleague of Preston.
Hall creates a far more restrained and shadowy ambience in his painting in the studiocirca 1924, but it too was well received, selling for $60,000, against a high estimate of $35,000, doubling in price since it was last auctioned 22 years ago.
Hall was the director and painting instructor at the National Gallery School in Melbourne for 43 years, and this painting, as the title suggests, depicts his studio in Melbourne, on the southern side of the State Library of Victoria. The Royal Exhibition Building’s dome can be glimpsed through the studio’s large arched window.
Hall used fellow artist Septimus Power as his central model. Hall’s wife, Grace, and their children are also depicted. And while we’re busy making connections, Preston studied at the National Gallery School, first under Frederick McCubbin then under Hall.
The auction’s cover lot, Sidney Nolan’s crossing the river1964, did not disappoint, rising $80,000 above its high estimate to sell for $880,000 (hammer), making it a $1 million work with the addition of buyer’s costs (25 per cent of the hammer price inclusive of GST).
Arthur Boyd’s Shoalhaven Riverbanks and Large Stones1981, also performed extremely well, doubling its low estimate to sell for $500,000 (hammer).
But it was noteworthy that other paintings by so-called blue-chip artists sold significantly below their low estimates, such as John Brack’s Three Egyptian Women1975, which had an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000 but sold at $80,000 (hammer).
“The sale strategy was to balance excesses with shortfalls,” Deutscher said. “Overall there were far more excesses.”
The final result is testament to that: the sale surpassed its low estimate of $5.5 million to reach $8 million (hammer), a healthy return for the superannuation fund that in 1990 resolved to invest $2 million in Australian art. And there are still three more online-only auctions to go before the entire Cbus collection is sold.
Cbus declined to comment on the results, but Deutscher was unequivocal when asked whether the super fund’s art collection had been a worthwhile long-term investment.
“Absolutely,” he said, predicting that the entire collection “will end up being in the $11 million to $12 million zone rather than the $9 million that we were originally talking about.”
What is clear, though, is that it pays to collect on a grand and broad scale if one wants art as an investment to pay off.
“You get your ‘blue chips’ and your ‘tech stocks’, which are the speculative ones,” Deutscher said.
Saleroom was given a sneak preview of two works in the next drop of 71 lots in the Cbus collection auction, focusing on modern and contemporary art, which goes online on Thursday at 11am: Dick Watkins’ colorful abstract scoopsince 1991, and Tim Storrier’s curious Kennel Memory IV – Red Roof, 1987, both with an estimate of $15,000 to $20,000. Bidding for the online-only auction closes on Tuesday, August 9, at 7pm.