IT was a sale tipped to defy a generally lacklustre market, and boy did it deliver! Some 590 items from the estate of Dr Ann Lewis were auctioned by Mossgreen on November 7 at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney.
The auction of Lewis's private collection attracted a
1500-strong crowd, where just about everything sold above estimate,
bringing a total of Aus$3.4m (£2.33m).
The sale size, site and spectators reflect the collector's
significance in the Australian art world. Lewis was director of
Gallery A in Sydney from 1964 and championed indigenous and
Australian art, both locally and internationally, for most of her
life. She was a founding member of the Australia Council Visual
Arts Board and served on the International Council of the Museum of
Modern Art in New York.
The sale was viewed in situ, Dr Lewis's residence Amaroo in Rose
Bay on Sydney's harbourside, where contemporary, idiosyncratic,
younger artists sat comfortably alongside more established
Australian artists' major works. Ron Ramsey, director of the
Newcastle Art Gallery had likened the residence to "boarding an
ancient ship laden with treasure".
The top lot of the night was a picture by one of Australia's
greatest landscape painters, Fred Williams (1927-1982). Bidding on
the large oil-on-canvas, Hillside 1, opened at Aus$900,000
and sold within estimate for Aus$1.05m (£719,180) to a telephone
bidder who beat two other contenders. The picture was a tenth
wedding anniversary gift from Dr Lewis' late husband and
construction magnate John D. Lewis, and had hung in their bedroom.
Maximum exposure was ensured before the sale, however, by putting
the painting on public view at the National Gallery of Australia in
Canberra for the past three months as part of the artist's first
major retrospective exhibition.
Hillside 1 was painted in 1965 when, having returned
from travels in Europe, Williams settled in Upway in the Dandenong
Ranges just outside Melbourne. The steep bush-covered hills gave
rise to a series of monumental landscape paintings. The highest
price for a Williams is the Aus$1.6m paid in 2006 for a work from
the same series when Christie's were still operating in
During her time at Gallery A, Lewis was responsible for seminal
exhibitions, wild parties and launching the careers of some of the
Australian market's best-known artists. It was the first gallery in
Sydney devoted to abstract art and one of the first spaces in the
country to exhibit Aboriginal artworks. The Mossgreen offering
tracked the development of contemporary Australian art from the
Three paintings by indigenous artist Sally Gabori (b.1934) sold
for more than three times their upper estimates, setting a new
artist's record of Aus$30,000 (£20,550) and proving that provenance
is a key component for collectors of contemporary Aboriginal art.
The previous record for a Gabori work at auction was Aus$6500 for
an earlier Dibirdibi Country painting sold by Deutscher
and Hackett, Melbourne in 2009. Lewis's bold 6ft 6in x 3ft 4in
(1.98 x 1.01m) linen abstracts hung in her living room that
overlooked a private beach and jetty.
Gabori only began painting at the age of 80 when she wandered
into the Mornington Island arts and crafts centre in Queensland and
picked up a brush out of curiosity. She had probably never been to
an art gallery or seen the work of abstract painters from around
the world but innately knew how to put colours together.
Gallery A hosted Rosalie Gascoigne's (1917-1999) first
exhibition, after which she became the first female artist to
represent Australia at the Venice Biennale. Her Summer
Swarm, 1995 was another highlight, selling for Aus$220,000
(£150,100), well above the Aus$150,000 upper estimate. The work is
geometrically assembled from Schweppes crates and painted timber to
form a three-dimensional wall hanging that evokes an image of a
As always in a depressed economic climate, items with good
provenance will sell well. Ten registered bidders resulted in an
intricate Robert Klippel (1920-2001) metal sculpture fetching
Aus$60,000 (£41,100), more than three times its higher estimate.
Klippel's witty and refined sculptures were also shown at Gallery A
and he was known to be one of Lewis's favourite artists.
A passionate philanthropist, in her last years Lewis had given
away more than 130 works from her valuable art collection to public
The buyer's premium was 22%. £1 = Aus$1.46
By Marika Clemow