Sidney Nolan highlight as dealer clears decks for new venue

Peter Fish, Australian Financial Review, Wednesday 15 February 2017

A Sidney Nolan painting from the 1950s valued at up to $2 million is part of an important collection about to hit the market next month as Melbourne-based gallery owner Rob Gould clears the decks for the opening of a new space specialising in more contemporary works.

The sale, estimated to be worth $6 million to $8 million, is to be conducted by Deutscher and Hackett in Sydney on March 15.

It includes much of Gould's stock in trade from his South Yarra gallery and works from his private collection. Gould has been in business for more than30 years, and while the gallery is still trading he intends to open the new premises in Collingwood in June.

Some of the paintings to be offered could have been owned by the gallery as part of the dealer's now soured partnership with Geoffrey Smith, the former curator of Australian art at the National Gallery of Victoria. The relationship ended in a blaze of publicity as the pair fought a bitter court battle over the assets.

Gould dismisses the court case as "not relevant" to the sale. "We went to court; the judge was quite scathing . . . the judge said they [the contested pictures] were worth about 10 per cent of it [the claim]."

Smith has since become executive chairman and driving force behind Sotheby's Australia, which took over from rival Menzies as the leading art auctioneer in 2016. For the 12 months to December its art sales raised a total $32.5 million, with Menzies tallying $24.4 million and third place-getter Deutscher and Hackett with $18.8 million.

The headline offering at the Gould sale is Nolan's Ned Kelly - Outlaw from 1955which has been in Gould's private collection since 1999. He acquired it from a US collection after it was originally owned by Adelaide arts identity Kym Bonython.

Described by Gould as a unique image, with the rifle forming part of the outlaw's arm, the picture was widely featured around Melbourne in 2006 when it was used to promote the exhibition Unmasked: Sidney Nolan and Ned Kelly 1950-1990 at the Heide Museum.

While perhaps a familiar image, the picture has the advantage of being fresh to the market, having been hanging on Gould's lounge room wall.

The work, 91cm by 71cm, has a pre-sale estimate of $1.2 million to $1.8 million.

Dealer stock, like paintings that have been on the market several times, is sometimes seen as "tired" by the market, which likes fresh images. A large sell-off by a prominent Sydney dealer last year demonstrated the point. The first tranche of the sale, at Sotheby's in Sydney in May, saw some buoyant prices, including Sidney Nolan's previously unseen River-Bank fetching $1.65 million. The second of the dealer's sales, at Menzies in Melbourne – admittedly containing many lower grade pictures – was a disappointment, selling for well below its modest expectations.

Carrying the second-highest hopes in the Gould offering, with estimates of $600,000 to $800,000 each, are Albert Tucker's Intruder and Parrots from the 1960s and Brett Whiteley's Galah from 1988. Gould says he bought the Tucker in 1982, paying $50,000 more for it than he paid for his house at the time. The Whiteley, a concoction in oil, collage and wire, was acquired at Deutscher Menzies, as it was then called, in 2005 for $252,000.

Other key offerings include John Perceval's Fisherman's Sights, Williamstown at $400,000 to $600,000 and The Hull, Williamstown at $220,000 to $260,000, Charles Blackman's Divided Painting and The Friends, both at $180,000 to $240,000, and John Olsen's River and Wattle – also at $180,000 to $240,000 – and Mallee Road to Nihill I at $120,000 to $160,000.