A Rita Angus record but is the Clarice Beckett boom over?

Gabriella CoslovichAustralian Financial Review, 11 May 2022

If any more proof were needed that the pandemic has overhauled the way auctioneers do business, we had it last week when a record was set in Sydney for a New Zealand artist few Australians had heard of. With the surge in internet bidding, auctions are increasingly global, meaning that a painting for sale in Australia can attract the most bids from across the Tasman Sea.

And so it was at Deutscher and Hackett last Wednesday night for Rita Angus’s vibrantly mysterious work Hawke’s Bay Landscape, c.1955. Within seconds the painting had exceeded its high estimate of $450,000 and kept climbing. It sold for $675,000 (hammer), to a phone bidder, with the new owner paying $828,409 with buyer’s fees included (25 per cent on the hammer price inclusive of GST).

“It demonstrates the international-ness of auctions these days, through [bidding platform] Invaluable combined with various search engines,” said Deutscher and Hackett’s co-executive-director Chris Deutscher.

While Deutscher was “sworn to secrecy” about who had bought the picture (he did say it was a private collector) it’s fair to assume that the painting will be heading to New Zealand soon.

Angus’s former auction record was set in 2018 in Wellington, New Zealand, for her painting of the same landscape in a darker mood, Storm, Hawke’s Bay, 1969, which sold for NZ$681,500 (AUD$637,066). Born in the hinterland of Hawke’s Bay, Angus, who died in 1970 aged 61, was recently celebrated with a retrospective at Wellington’s Te Papa museum, and we know how such exhibitions can influence the secondary market.

Angus’s painting realised the highest price at the Deutscher and Hackett sale, surpassing the auction’s cover lot, John Brack’s Knives and Forks, from 1958, which sold for $610,000 (hammer) against an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000.

Arthur Streeton’s Out of the Purple Mountains It Gets Its Waters, 1928, was third in line, selling for $450,000 (hammer), more than double its high estimate. The Impressionist has been in demand this year, with works consistently exceeding their estimates. But the market is nothing if not finicky. Two lots later, Streeton’s Northern View, Olinda, 1933, which had an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000 was passed in, but sold post-auction, for around $250,000.