What's on at the galleries, museums and institutions

Please refer to the respective web sites of each gallery, museum or institution to see Whats on. Go to our Institutions page for a list and a link to each web site. 

Australiana at the August to December 2013 Auctions

The second half of 2013 was a relative quiet period for Australiana. No major collections were sold or dispersed.

Several New Zealand items from the Ruth Simon collection were consigned to auctions in New Zealand. An important Anton Seuffert inlaid occasional table sold for NZ$58,625 (IBP) in November while a collector’s album of pages laid with fern specimens bound with inlaid boards made by Seuffert sold for NZ$20,518.75 (IBP) in an earlier auction. Back in 2005, the major portion of Ruth Simon’s Australiana collection had been acquired and merged into the Trevor Kennedy Collection while the key object, the Macquarie Collector’s chest was acquired by the Mitchell Library.

A collection of Cayley bird watercolours were keenly fought over at an August auction in Sydney. A watercolour of a Nesting Pair of Rosellas in a Bush Landscape by Neville Henry Cayley (Senior) far exceeded its estimate of $2,000 to $4,000, when it was knocked down for a hammer price of $20,000 ($23,960 with buyer’s premium), a possible record for this artist. A second watercolour of Rosellas by the same Cayley, was bidded to $15,5000 against an estimate of $1,500 to $3,000. The 35 lot Cayleys (Neville Henry and Neville William) had a strong showing with most lots exceeding estimates including several lots that sold at impressive multiples of its estimates.    

At the Bonham’s Colonial Sale in November, goldfield miners brooches were in demand. A goldfields miners brooch, comprised of shovel, pick and bucket and Westralia banner by Louis Boxhorn, Barrack Street, Perth, circa 1900, sold for $20,740 (IBP) against a low estimate of $2,000 to $3,000. Another brooch decorated with a figure of a miner and miner’s tools surrounded by a garland of vines and grapes, circa 1855, sold for $21,960 (IBP), four times its estimate of $3,000 to $4,000 while an opal and kangaroo brooch, circa 1870 achieved a similarly impressive sum of $21,960 (IBP) against another low estimate of $3,000 to $4,000. The rest of the 18 items of jewellery sold within or near its estimates with only one item being passed in.

The majority of furniture, silver and other miscellaneous items found buyers and surprisingly, an extremely large cedar and rose mahogany six door breakfront bookcase, ex-Mitchell Library, had a couple of interested parties, sold for $18,300 (IBP). One would need an extremely large home to accommodate the bookcase.

Of the two marquee items, the John McDouall Stuart Explorer pocket watch, circa 1859 sold for $85,400 (IBP) at the top of its estimates. Stuart was the father of the Overland Telegraph and one of Australia’s greatest inland explorers. The buyer was the National Museum of Australia and the underbidder was History SA. However, the miniature portrait of Governor Brisbane attributed to Nathaniel Plimer, failed to find a buyer and was passed in.  

Australiana at the January to early July 2013 Auctions

A pistol with provenance supporting ownership by Captain James Cook sold at a Melbourne auction in February this year for $219,600, including buyer's commission, greatly exceeding its reserve price of $75,000. The owner of the pistol had purchased it for £19,000 at an auction in Edinburgh in December 2003 where it had been consigned by a direct descendent of Cook's elder sister. The pistol, a Belgian-made flintlock, had been bequeathed by Cook to his elder sister Margaret, and had remained within the family for six generations. It is not known as to where Cook had used the pistol.

The middle of June was auction week in Melbourne with a series of paintings, jewellery and decorative arts sales all held one after the other within the same week. A lonely piece of Australian silver was amongst English and European items at one decorative arts sale. The silver sauce ladle had Alexander Dick’s pseudo English hallmarks with A.DICK maker’s stamp and sold for $5,856 (IBP). At another sale, a two day marine chronometer, retailed by Thomas Gaunt of Bourke Street, Melbourne, housed in a blackwood box, circa 1880 achieved $8,296 (IBP) against an estimate of $6,000 to $8,000. At the same sale, an early stick barometer on rosewood, signed G. Cetta, circa 1840 sold for $4,880 (IBP) against an estimate of $1,000 to $1,500.

Not surprisingly, West Australian colonial furniture continues to attract a strong following in its home state. A rare two door press, made of jarrah, circa 1860, of fine style and quality sold for $18,600 (IBP) at a Perth auction in June 2013. Presses or wardrobes, are common items in cedar and even examples in huon pine come up for sale frequently, and are not particularly sought after items due to their size, and the prevalence of built-ins in modern homes. The sale had a number of other West Australian colonial furniture including an jarrah settle, circa 1870-1880 ($4,660 IBP) and specimen tilt top occasional table with an inlaid chess board octagonal top, circa 1880 ($3,611 IBP).

The magic of provenance proved to be a winner at the auction of the estate of Margaret Olley. In this case, the provenance was recent ownership, rather than historical ownership. The auction was held on a rainy July Sunday at the National Art School in Sydney with a crowd of well over 500 attending the auction where there was standing room only. Common and well used household items fetched well in excess of the estimates with sale prices consistently achieving five to 10 times the estimates. A green painted and dilapidated pine chest of drawers, missing its feet, fetched $2,196 (IBP). A cedar library table, of late Victorian period which would hardly raise a bid at a normal antique furniture auction, sold for $4,148 (IBP). Two bentwood armchairs, sold separately, both with an old coat of green paint, were highly sought after as they appeared in a number of Olley paintings including the cover lot for the sale. Fierce bidding for the first chair pushed the price to an eventual $4,880 (IBP). By comparison, the second chair went for a modest $2,684 (IBP). A group of stoneware jars with paintbrushes sold for $1,342 (IBP) against an estimate of $20 to $40, typical of the scale of the winning bids required to secure a piece of modern Australiana and personal memento of the popular and great artist.