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Boyd’s Bridegroom sets record in Sydney

05 September 2011Written by ATG Reporter

DESPITE the uncertain economic conditions that have cooled the art market in Australia, last month saw a new high for one the country’s most highly regarded artists.

However, while Sotheby's Australia (20% buyer's premium) snatched the record for Arthur Merric Bloomfield Boyd (1920-1999) at their sale in Sydney on August 23, The Frightened Bridegroom still only reached a lower estimate sum of Aus$1m (£671,115), selling to a private buyer.

Overall the 67-lot auction went below its $4.6m-$5.9m presale estimate making $4.1m (£2.74) hammer.

The stark painting from Boyd's celebrated Bridegroom series had never been offered publicly for sale since it was first exhibited in 1958 at Australian Galleries in Melbourne, when it was acquired on the opening night for 125 guineas by Australian collector Bruce Wenzel.

An oil and tempera on board measuring 2ft by 2ft 1in (62 x 63cm), it was part of the series Love, Marriage and Death of a Half-Caste, based on the artist's observations of Aboriginals in pre-Reconciliation Australia.

It was in the settler camps of the Northern Territory in the era of the Stolen Generation that Aboriginal women were driven to church dressed in white on the backs of open trucks to forcibly marry into Western society.

Of the 15 works in series, one was destroyed in a fire and others can be found in the collections of the National Gallery in Canberra, National Gallery of Victoria and National Gallery of South Australia.

This painting, which explores the complexities of indigenous and non-indigenous Australia with its depiction of an Aboriginal man, possibly a returned serviceman, and a white bride, has a long exhibition history and featured in Boyd's retrospective exhibition at Whitechapel Art Gallery in London in 1961 where the artist was living and working at the time.

The previous record for a Boyd at auction (in terms of Australian dollars) was Aus$900,000 (£328,465) paid at both Christie's Melbourne in November 2001 for Bridegroom Waiting for His Bride to Grow Up, and at Deutscher-Menzies in Melbourne in May 2002 for Phantom Bride.

Whilst Boyd's works are yet to command the sums paid for pictures by contemporaries such as Sidney Nolan and John Brack, Sotheby's chairman Geoffrey Smith likened the Bridegroom series to Nolan's famous Ned Kelly pictures. "They are the holy grail," he said.

A picture which perhaps appealed to a more international market at the sale was an etching by Lucian Freud (1922-2011).

Woman with an Arm Tattoo from 1996 depicted Sue Tilley - the most recognisable of all of Freud's models who featured in four oil portraits and two etchings including, famously, Benefits Supervisor Sleeping from 1995, which sold for a record $30m at Christie's New York in May 2008.

From an edition of 40, the 2ft 4in x 3ft (70 x 92cm) impression was actually the largest print the artist had produced at this time.

The example in Australia was the second Freud artwork to come to auction since the artist died in July and, estimated at Aus$60,000-80,000, it sold to a private buyer at Aus$70,000 (£46,980), one of the ten highest prices for a Freud print at auction.

Another copy of Woman with an Arm Tattoo sold back in June 2005 for £22,000 at Bloomsbury Auctions in London, and so the sum here demonstrated the rise in the artist's prices over the last six years.

£1=Aus$1.49

By Marika Clemow

Written by

ATG Reporter

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