Arthur Streeton’s Grand Canal sells for record $3 million at auction

Kerrie O'Brien, The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 April 2021

Arthur Streeton’s finest European painting, The Grand Canal, 1908, has set a record for his works, selling for $3,068,180 at auction on Wednesday.

Bidders fought it out via telephone and online, with an internet buyer who chose to remain anonymous claiming victory.

The stunning oil on canvas captures Venice in the early 1900s, giving a commanding view of the northern Italian city. In the painting measuring 92cm x 168.5cm, Streeton captures intricacies such as gondolas, barges, struts in the water, the palace buildings and the expanse of water and sky exquisitely.

It had been estimated to sell for between $1.5–$2 million but the end result eclipsed that by more than a million dollars, including buyer’s premium.

Painted by Streeton while on a second honeymoon with his wife Nora Clench, The Grand Canal has a storied history. It was hidden from the public eye for more than a century, purchased just before World War I by Arthur Baillieu and remaining in the Baillieu family until 2019.

It was then spied by Sarah Schmidt while she was head of the Hamilton Gallery, in a private home in Victoria’s western district.

The previous record for one of Streeton’s works was set in 2012, when Settler’s Camp, 1888sold for an impressive $2,520,000. Three other Streeton paintings were also sold at the Deutscher and Hackett auction in Melbourne, including a still life of roses.

Also under the hammer were works by Clarice Beckett, whose View Across The Yarra, 1931, sold for a record $184,090. Other items included works by John Olsen, Cressida Campbell, Arthur Boyd and Fred Williams, and a series of Carol Jerrems photographs, shot in the 1970s in her trademark black and white.

It’s been a big week in Australian art sales, with record prices recorded on Tuesday night after fierce competition for works by Frederick McCubbin and Fred Williams. The auction at Smith & Singer/Sotheby’s saw the greatest total from the smallest number of lots in the two companies’ history.

McCubbin’sWhat the Little Girl Saw in the Bush, 1904, achieved the highest price of the night at $1,472,727, while the Williams – Guthega Landscape (1975) - came in at $1,227,273. A further six works set world auction records, including Bessie Davidson’s Interieur (1935), oil on board, estimated at $200,000–250,000, selling for $662,727, and Ron Robertson-Swann’s Vault (1979), painted steel (edition of 10 plus 1 Artist’s Proof), estimated at $15,000–25,000, reaching $55,227. (All prices quoted include buyer’s premium.)

Brett Whiteley holds top ranking for a work by an Australian artist, for Henri’s Armchair, an interior of Whiteley’s home at Lavender Bay.

It sold for $6.136 million in November last year at auction to a private buyer. Sidney Nolan previously held the record with his Ned Kelly painting First-Class Marksman, which in 2010 sold to the Art Gallery of New South Wales for $5.4 million.