Art dealer Denis Savill, 80, is very familiar with the link between the two countries when it comes to art. He credits the UK as an important influence on the Australian art market during his 40-year-career.
The prolific dealer helped repatriate more than 1000 paintings from Australian artists living in the UK in the 20th century, such as Arthur Boyd (1920-99) and Sidney Nolan (1917-92).
Savill said: “England was very important to me as a dealer and for the development of the Australian art market. Many Australian artists came to the UK and Europe after the Second World War. For Boyd and Nolan the UK made the market for them because the Australian art market was not really in existence.
“It started to grow in Australia in the 1980s. Boyd and Nolan sold many of their works through the established galleries such as Fischer Fine Art and Marlborough Galleries in London in the early years.”
New Zealand-born Savill started his business in Sydney and made his first trip to London in 1976, set up as a dealer in 1979, and bought Sydney’s Gordon Marsh Gallery in 1981, which he renamed Savill Galleries in 1984.
He said: “When I started there weren’t even fax machines. People would happily put by a painting for me in the UK for four months before I could come and collect it on my next trip.”
Having bought and sold over 10,000 artworks during his career, in 2016 Savill began winding down his businesses, shops and stock. The gallery closed in 2017 and he sold around 850 paintings through auctions at Sotheby’s and Menzies, as well as private sales, and through acceptance in lieu of tax schemes.
Savill said: “It’s hard to stop completely. I’m still buying because I understand these artists, I know great works after this much time studying them, and I have the money in the bank to compete in the market.”
One of Savills’ most recent purchases in the UK was at Woolley & Wallis on December 11, 2019, when he bought a Ned Kelly-themed picture by war artist George Washington Lambert (1873-1930). It was hammered down at £78,000, more than five times the top estimate (see ATG No 2424).
He bought the picture for his own personal collection and said the work was an illustration in a 1908 book, Romance of Empire, Australia. Savill added: “Lambert painted 12 works to illustrate the book and I have obtained an original copy, which is a great read.”
Savill is on the hunt for more pictures and scours the internet for his next target.