Turnbull, a writer, journalist and art critic at three newspapers (the Melbourne Herald, the Argus and the Age), acquired Going to the Pictures at Drysdale's landmark exhibition at Macquarie Galleries in 1942, the year after it was painted.
It was one of four famous outback scenes in the exhibition. The others are now in the Queensland Art Gallery, the University of Sydney Art Collection and the Newcastle Region Art Gallery.
The 18 x 22in (46 x 56cm) signed oil on canvas remained in Turnbull’s family after his death in 1981. Over the years the picture has been well exhibited, appearing at frequent shows of the artist’s work and it was on loan at the National Gallery of Victoria from 2009-16.
Turnbull’s descendants have now consigned it to Deutscher and Hackett’s sale in Melbourne on November 11 where it is estimated at Aus$2.5m-3.5m.
The picture itself, although painted when he lived in Sydney, was an attempt to reflect the experience of rural life in Australia and convey its remoteness. It was painted in the artist’s trademark style which blends landscape painting with surrealism.
Drysdale was born in Sussex in England, but his family moved to Melbourne, Australia in 1923. They had extensive agricultural interests and Drysdale was headed for a life on the land, but changed direction after meeting George Bell, the influential modernist art teacher. Having seen Impressionist and other modern works in Europe in the early 1930s for the first time, he decided to pursue a career as an artist and enrolled at the Shore-Bell School in Melbourne.
Drysdale’s works mainly tackled themes relating to his homeland including the effects of drought, environmental degradation and Aboriginal dispossession. However he managed to gain international recognition, exhibiting at London's Leicester Galleries and with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Tate in London both buying examples of his work.
Today Drysdale remains one of the most prominent Australian artists commercially, being one of only five who have broken the Aus$2m barrier at auction (the others are John Brack, Sidney Nolan, Brett Whiteley and Fred Williams).
The current auction record for Drysdale stands at Aus$2.4m (£1.42m) for a later work from 1972, Grandma’s Sunday Walk that sold at Mossgreen sold in June 2017.
The auction record for an Australian picture is the $4.5m (£2.75) for Sidney Nolan’s First-Class Marksman from 1946 sold at Menzies in 2010.
Going to the Pictures will be the centrepiece of Deutscher and Hackett’s sale on November 11. The 60 lots at the auction have a combined estimate of $10m-13m.