Frenzy Over Jeffrey Smart Paintings at Fall Auctions in Australia

Collectors love Smart's colorful urban realism.

 

How much Jeffrey Smart is too much?

It’s been just over a year since Jeffrey Smart died, and three months since the $1.18 million (AUD$1.26 million) record-breaking sale of Smart’s Self-Portrait at Papini’s (1984–85) at Deutscher and Hackett. At the spring sales in Australia, sellers had clearly decided it was time to cash in. Bonhams had high hopes for a late-1980s painting of a concrete breakwater, putting it on the cover of the catalogue, and Sotheby’s Australia went all out with seven works.

The festival of Jeffrey Smart didn’t get off to a great start this fall. The Breakwater, Fiumicino (1986–87) was quickly and quietly bought in at the Bonhams Sydney sale on November 24. Despite good results for Tom Roberts, Brett Whiteley, and a tidy $493,984 (AUD$573,400) for an Arthur Boyd, the lack of interest in the cover lot hurt, and the sale made just $1.41 million (AUD$1.64 million) including buyer’s premium.

The following night at Sotheby’s Australia, there was strong interest in the first of the Smart lots. Art consultant David Hulme competed against six phone bidders to get the 1982 painting The Four Closed Shops for $592,514 (AUD$695,400), well above its high estimate of $383,435 (AUD$450,000). The next three Smarts, all large paintings with estimates from around $85,000 to $500,000 (AUD$100,000 to $600,000) remained unsold, though buyers happily snapped up the three smaller works.

Sotheby’s Australia recorded its best result in over four years, with a total of $4.56 million (AUD$5.36 million) including buyer’s premium. But the evening still felt lackluster at times, with only 63 percent of lots selling, despite a catalogue that took few risks. (The fire alarm that interrupted the sale for 10 minutes also didn’t help the mood.)

Art consultant Annette Larkin’s determined effort to get Grace Cossington Smith’s 1956 painting The Window provided a splash of excitement. It went for $571,724 (AUD$671,000), setting an auction record for the artist. Brett Whiteley’s Washing the Salt Off II (1984) was another high point, going for $831,599 (AUD$976,000) at the lower end of its estimate.

The Sotheby’s Australia sale included very few contemporary living Australian artists. A Bill Henson triptych sold for $33,263 (AUD$39,040), well above its estimate, but Del Kathryn Barton’s 2004 painting Punk, Spunk and Green Rain for the Heart (2004) was bought in.

Del Kathryn Barton, Punk, Spunk and Green Rain for the Heart (2004)

Del Kathryn Barton, Punk, Spunk and Green Rain for the Heart (2004).
Photo: artnet

There was more contemporary work to be had at the Deutscher and Hackett sale in Melbourne on November 26. Barton had a better night there, with a large painting selling for $174,135 (AUD$204,000), a smaller painting for $66,581 (AUD$78,000) and a watercolor sketch for $7,170 (AUD$8,400). Bronwyn Oliver and Cressida Campbell also recorded strong results, but the highlight was one of Yayoi Kusama’s abstract dot canvases, which sold for $419,975 (AUD$492,000). It was one of very few international works across the three Australian sales.

The Deutscher and Hackett auction made $3.67 million (AUD$4.29 million) including the premium, though the second part, which featured 100 lots of Aboriginal art, contributed only $518,925 (AUD$607,920). Only 63 percent of the lots in this part of the sale found buyers.

Meanwhile, two more Jeffrey Smart paintings will be auctioned by Menzies Art Brands in Melbourne in early December.


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