Indigenous art takes centre stage at Laverty sale

Peter Fish, Australian Financial Review, Wednesday 15 March 2017

Hot on the heels of selling art dealer Rob Gould's stock, auctioneer Deutscher and Hackett is readying another offering – the final sale of the collection of medical couple Liz and the late Colin Laverty.

The Laverty sale, which includes works by William Robinson and Rover Thomas, will be in Sydney on April 5.

After that the auctioneer will be clearing the decks for its first mixed-vendor sale of the calendar year, normally held in May.

With the Gould sale billed as worth more than $6 million, the Laverty offerings sure to bring in at least a further $2 million and the mixed-vendor sale still to be unveiled, D&H is bidding to take an early lead over its rivals in the hotly contested auction market, as measured by turnover.

Sotheby's Australia holds its first sale on May 3 while Menzies, which last year lost its market leadership to Sotheby's, kicked off the year with a February sale that raised $7.5 million, according to Australian Art Sales Digest.

The Laverty auction, the third on behalf of the founders of the extensive pathology operation that bears their name, comprises art from Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists in a variety of styles that emphasises the breadth of the couple's taste. Indeed, the collection began with Colin's interest in traditional paintings of horses and livestock, graduated to Australian "moderns" like Robinson, Rosalie Gascoigne and Aida Tomescu, then morphed into a passionate embrace of Indigenous art – which saw the couple embark on extensive travels to remote Australia and meet the Aboriginal artists themselves in their remote communities.

WINNING ENTHUSIASM

The couple's enthusiasm and knowledgeable approach helped ensure the success of their earlier sales, in March 2013 and March 2015, which raised a total of $5.05 million and $3.4 million respectively – both more than expected – and undoubtedly will see plenty of interest in next month's 150-lot auction.

Many of the offerings were acquired privately rather than at auction, which adds to their appeal.

Among the "Western" art, the highlights include William Robinson's Birkdale Farm Construction with Willy Wagtail, a 1.8-metre-wide farmyard scene with domestic animals amid corrugated iron-roofed sheds, acquired in 1987. Estimate is $250,000 to $350,000. D&H senior art specialist Henry Mulholland says the Lavertys were huge fans of Robinson, with at one stage what he believes was the largest holding of the artist's work in the country.

Despite Robinson's Morning Tallanbanna going unsold at the first Laverty sale two years ago, it achieved a stunning price of $402,600 including premium when re-offered at D&H last September.

Other Robinson works on offer are Springbrook and Numinbah to Mt Warning, estimate $80,000 to $120,000, and Clearing Storm to Fingal at $60,000 to $80,000. The pictures were acquired from well-known dealer Ray Hughes.

The major Aboriginal work is Rover Thomas's Djugamerri and Bolgumerri, a 1.1m-wide painting dating from 1991 acquired from a private collection in Western Australia.

ACCLAIMED WORKS ON OFFER

This picture by the much-travelled east Kimberley artist is said to portray the spirits of two ancestors, divided by a yellow line representing the road from the Ord River, which is shown in black across the bottom. Presale estimate is $220,000 to $300,000.

Other Aboriginal works include Paddy Bedford's Mad Gap, a view of the southern part of the artist's country in the east Kimberley, by a figure who is regarded as a successor to Rover Thomas. A founding member of the Jirrawun art movement, Bedford began his modern painting career in 1998, the year Thomas died.

Although seemingly abstract, the shapes in Mad Gap resemble natural features in the landscape. The work is some 1.8m wide, and estimated at $110,000 to $150,000.

Another Bedford work, Untitled from 1998, in ochres on plywood, is one of the artist's earliest pictures. It is estimated at $20,000 to $30,000.

Daniel Walbidi's Kirriwirri, a dazzling painting 1.8m high bought from the Short Street Gallery, Broome, carries an estimate of $18,000 to $25,000.

Among two works by John Mawurndjul, the acclaimed western Arnhem Land artist and master of the rarrk (cross-hatched) bark painting technique, are Mardayin Design, 1.7m high, acquired by the Lavertys from Maningrida Arts and Culture in 2004, at $25,000 to $35,000; and Buluwana, 2m high, at $20,000 to $30,000.

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