by: Adrian Newstead published: 9th June 2016
It began with a mixed vendor offering of Australian, international and Aboriginal artworks anchored by works from the collection of Transfield founder Franco Belgiorno-Nettis AC CBE and his wife Amina.
Prominent philanthropists, the Italian born Belgiorno-Nettis’ lived in Mediterranean style at Clontarf. Franco held numerous positions in the arts and their home became the perfect setting for their growing art collection. It included works by John Coburn, Sid Nolan, William Dobell, Robert Juniper, Jeffrey Smart, Arthur Streeton, Donald Friend, Brett Whitely, Ray Crooke and Arthur Boyd. Of these artists the most successful on the night proved to be Dobell, with better than expected results for Coburn and Juniper.
John Coburn’s Section 1968 (Lot 1), which featured in the full-page image of the family’s Clontarf living room achieved $67,100 against its pre-sale estimate of $25,000 - $45,000.
However the most unexpected success was for a print depicting a view of Sydney created by the English artist William Stadden Blake in 1802. Estimated at $8,000 - $12,000 this rare and desirable image achieved $20,740.
The standout paintings in this sale however, were not part of the Belgiorno – Nettis offering.
They included a self-portrait created by Weaver Hawkins on the eve of World War I when 30 years of age; a very rare work by Wurundjeri artist William Barak of a Ceremony at Coranderrk, Victoria, in 1897; and the haunting Persecuted Lovers – Study 1957 -8, the study for Arthur Boyd’s major work in the Bride Series housed at the Art Gallery of South Australia.
Weaver Hawkins, who was badly injured in the ‘war to end all wars’ settled in Australia in 1935 and painted under an assumed name Raokin thereafter. His self-portrait remained in the ‘Raokin’ collection until Hawkins’ death in 1977 and was then passed on to family members. Fresh to the market, this splendid work created by the artist in his prime, sold for $122,000 against its pre-sale estimate of $40,000 - $60,000.
So rare are works by William Barak that they have appeared at auction on only 17 occasions and more than half of these have been repeat offerings. Prior to this sale the Australian Newspaper reported that the Wurundjeri Tribe Land and Compensation Cultural Heritage Council was seeking $200,000 from all those who lived on Wurundjeri Country and beyond, to support them in their journey to purchase the work by their revered ancestor. Had they successfully raised that amount they would have failed utterly. The painting sold for $512,400 eclipsing the previous record price for a work by this artist of $504,000 set by Sotheby’s in July 2009.
Boyd’s Persecuted Lovers – Study 1957-58 was a work that was extremely strong in the literature with a long exhibition history and association with Stuart Purves’ Australian Galleries. The powerful work, from one of the most important narrative cycles in Australian art history, sold for $244,000.
Packaged in its own separate catalogue, the second part of the evening was touted as The Thomas Vroom Collection Part II.
But was it really?
In June 2015, when Sotheby’s announced that its former Australian Aboriginal art specialist, Tim Klingender, would return after a stint with its arch rival Bonhams to offer selected works from the Thomas Vroom collection in its first London sale of Aboriginal Art it took the Australian art market by complete surprise. Beginning in the late 1980s Vroom had amassed one of Europe's largest, most valuable and significant Aboriginal art collections rumoured to include more than 1500 individual items.
But a year later Klingender was back at Bonhams offering Vroom Part 2. On a quick trip back to Australia Vroom dropped a bombshell; he let it be known he was shedding his entire collection. Though he consigned works at estimates that shook the industry to its foundations, he appeared unconcerned. The 255-lot offering included more than thirty works by Emily Kngwarreye amongst a vast array of early bark paintings, sculptures and artefacts all carrying rock bottom pre-sale estimates.
A large number of significant pieces had been on long-term loan as the cornerstone of the AAMU, Museum of Contemporary Aboriginal Art in Utrecht. Amongst the most important items were pieces from the anthropological collections of Lance Bennett, Kim Akerman and Dr. Joseph Birdsell including early artefacts, figurative carvings, many rare erotic bark paintings and major contemporary canvases by celebrated artists including Rover Thomas and Emily Kngwarreye.
Significantly, the majority of these works had been purchased very inexpensively, long before the hype of the early 2000s.
And so, on June 7th 2016 Bonhams served up Vroom Part II, or should I say Vroom part III with a further 160 contemporary paintings and artefacts. That would make 489 of the 1500 works in Vroom’s collection down, and only another 1000 + pieces plus to go. Though I suspect Vroom has kept the very best of the best for himself.
The most over-represented artists in this sale were the former Telstra Art Award winner Kathleen Petyarre with no less than 12 works up for sale and, once more, Emily Kngwarreye with 7. In a sale with no standout works there were 5 paintings by these two artists carrying $10,000 - $15,000, the highest pre-sale estimates in the entire sale.
With such extremely low estimates and, I suspect no reserves, only 3 of the 60 works on offer failed to sell.
The highest price achieved was $73,200 for a Mountain Devil Lizard Dreaming work by Kathleen Petyarre created in 1996. The 183 x 183 cm painting bore a number of similarities to the painting that won the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award for the artist in 1998. The award ended in furor when Petyarre was accused of having been assisted by her white husband Ray Beamish, who insisted that he painted the rows of white dots that alternated with Kathleen’s yellow ones. It was said that Beamish, who later proved to be an extremely gifted optical painter, was the one responsible for imbuing the painting with its mesmeric quality.
In spite of the adverse publicity, resulting in lost sales to her representative galleries due to the withdrawal of interest from prominent collectors, Kathleen Petyarre’s award stood.