NAuction houses emerging from doldrums

Woman in bath 1 - 1963

Its chairman in Australia, Mark Fraser - formerly MONA director and before that managing director of Sotheby's Australia - says the company's strategy of working on single-owner sales, which takes time and patience, is paying off.

Bonhams sold the Laverty collection for $5.05 million in March; on June 21 it is selling the Reg Grundy collection, estimated at $21 million. ''The pedigree that comes with single-owner sales means they outperform normal art auctions,'' Mr Fraser says. ''Buyers know they're getting the best of the best.''

Sotheby's inaugural sale at its new Collins Street premises last week has buoyed talk that the market is clawing its way out of the doldrums. The $7.4 million turnover included Brett Whiteley's early abstract painting Woman in a Bath 1, 1963, which sold for $976,000, treble the estimate set.

Criticism last year that Sotheby's was putting overly high estimates on works was quashed at the auction, with other standouts including Peter Russell's beautiful impressionist work In the Afternoon, 1891, recently rediscovered in France through Sotheby's in Paris, trebling its pre-sale estimate at $707,600. A rare 19th-century painting by Aby Altson, Children's Children, 1889, on loan to the National Gallery of Victoria from 2002 to 2013, sold for a record $341,600. Fred Williams' 1981 painting Pool at Agnes Falls, which fetched $1.3 million, was also conservatively priced at $800,000.

Arthur Boyd's The Goat Girl, 1953, which art dealer Stuart Purves described as ''the most important social comment made in this country so far on the human condition of Aborigines'', had a presale estimate of $800,000-plus. It was passed in but sold two days later.

Deutscher and Hackett's April 24 sale, which fetched $4.5 million, also had some rare and sought-after works. Among the 78 per cent of pieces sold were two early paintings by Ian Fairweather - Boats at Soochow Creek, 1938, and Temple Yard, Peking, 1936, fetching $630,000 and $384,000 respectively.

Menzies Art Brands, which began the year's auctions, fetched $4.5 million - $2 million shy of its predicted turnover - and its worst March result on record, amid growing concern that it is offering too many of the same works for sale too frequently.