Sunday Art Auction @ Leonard Joel May 2011

LJ 210 Euro SchoolTuesday, 10 May 2011 

Sunday Art Auction @ Leonard Joel, May 2011 

The Sunday Art Auction at Leonard Joel, that took place in Melbourne last weekend, looked almost more exciting by comparison to its competitors, Menzies Art Brands and Deutscher-Hackett. The auction houses that operate at the top of the art market, including Menzies, Deutscher, and Sotheby’s, limit themselves  by necessity to a selected pool of artists, prescribed by their price bracket and art market reputation. As such, they are at mercy of the availability of artworks by this select group of artists, and frequently their auction collections appear lacklustre simply because they were not able to find and secure first-rate works by top-selling secondary-market artists at that point in time.

Leonard Joel does not have – or can’t afford – such conniptions. Their only rule for monthly Sunday Art Auctions is that the reserve price of the offered work should not fall below a particular price bracket (otherwise, it is immediately consigned to their weekly sessions). Ironically, this all-inclusiveness offers the viewer a by far more exciting, varied, and heterogeneous selection of artworks, catering to the widest possible selection of tastes and aesthetic predilections.

LJ 248 Sigvard HansenAmong the best things to be seen at Leonard Joel on Sunday were works by 18th and 19th Century European masters. A number of their works – either genre scenes or landscapes – would give many an Australian contemporary artist a run for their money in terms of quality of composition, narrative, and technical brilliancy of execution. I have confessed repeatedly to being a nineteenth-century aficionado, and my gaze was immediately drawn upon the entry to the exhibition space to a medium size work by an unknown painter of an Albanian woman with Child, of c. 1875, a favourite staple in the repertoire of 19th-Century European artists. Though the condition of this painting was not the best, one could still perfectly admire the confident execution, the drawing of the figure, and the exquisite brushwork of the embroideries and the lace (est. $800-1,200).

I was also drawn to a large-scale and magnificently executed autumnal landscape scene with a solitary figure of a returning hunter by a Danish artist, Sigvard Hansen. Such quality of art, such atmospheric clarity, such dexterity with bright, fresh colouring arguably has not been seen in Australian landscape painting. The mimetic quality of the picture is such that one can literally sense the autumnal chill of a foggy Scandinavian afternoon (est. $3,000-$5,000).

LJ 234 Euro SchoolAnother superb European work is a little military painting, possibly by a French mid-nineteenth century artist, perhaps of an episode from the Crimean War (est. $2,000-$4,000). In spite of its sketchy and effervescent quality, the work already displays a strong grasp of the composition, an assured delineation between the foreground, middle ground and the background, and such excellent freshness of colours that one could easily dwell on every brushstroke and every pigment application for hours on end.

LJ 128 John LongstaffThe auctions at Leonard Joel are also the best place to view 19th and early 20th Century Australian art. Hopefully, just like myself, visitors to the auction preview were able to disentangle themselves from the favourite art market preoccupation with names and frames (in the words of the late Joseph Brown), and enjoy the colour, composition, and technical quality of many of these works. The auction offered a wide variety of genre scenes, landscapes, and still lives, the comparable but much lesser quality versions of which can be seen in numerous commercial galleries around Melbourne by the present-day limners. Take for example, the superbly sparkling Rubery Bennett landscape (est $1,000-$1,500); or the delicately-hued flower arrangement by Alan D. Baker ($6,000-$8,000); or fresh sunlit landscape sketch by HS Power (est. $1,000-$1,500); not to mention the delicately tinted twilight scene by that master of Art Nouveau, John Longstaff ($6,000-$8,000).

LJ 268 Jim ThalassoudisThe auction certainly had plenty of modern and contemporary stable to suit everyone’s taste, and, sure enough, the sprinkling of works by such auction room favourites as Norman Lindsay, Charles Blackman, Arthur Boyd, Sydney Nolan, John Brack, Robert Dickerson, and many others proliferated. These were supplemented by refreshing appearance of works by such contemporary artists as Bruce Armstrong, John Kelly, Rick Amor, Dale Frank, David Aspden, Wendy Stavrianos, Mark Howson, and even a large-scale Jim Thalassoudis (est. $3,000-$5,000).

LJ 012 Lionel LindsayAs always, perhaps the biggest attraction of these smaller auction houses is indeed the fact that you just never know what surprise might await you around the corner or on the opposite side of the partition, from the superbly stylised creations by Dorothy Braund (est $3,000-$5,000), to the most whimsical and humorously observational engravings by Lionel Lindsay, such as The Demon, showing two most adorable kittens spooked by the barrel-chested, strutting magpie (est. $1,000-$2,000).

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2011. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment]

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Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg

May 2011


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