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Record-breaking auction reaps $19m

Sarah Adams

The Grundy collection went to market last night and came back the most valuable single-owner auction in Australian history.
Record-breaking auction reaps $19m

The Grundy collection went to market last night and came back the most valuable single-owner auction in Australian history.


The collection of Reg Grundy and Joy Chambers-Grundy sold for a whopping $19,166,566 and set 12 individual auction artist records for artists including Fred Williams, whose work You Yangs Landscape 1, 1963 was the top item on the night at $2,287,500.

The standing-room-only crowd of more than 400 people at Overseas Passenger Terminal at Sydney’s Circular Quay found a bidding war was far more exciting than a leadership one and battled for iconic artists such as Eugene von Guerard, Arthur Boyd, Sidney Nolan, Sam Fullbrook, Ian Fairweather, John Bracks and Tom Roberts.

The lucrative collection managed to exceed previous single owner sales such as The Fosters Collection of Australian Art (2005, $13.3 million) and the Harold E. Mertz Collection (2000, $15.9 million).

Pieced together over three decades, more than 10,000 people viewed the pre-sale touring exhibition, which surpassed any pre-sale viewing numbers seen in Australia.

‘The record results tonight reflect the outstanding quality and connoisseurship of the Grundy Collection,’ said Mark Fraser, Australian Chairman of Bonhams.

Buyers from around the world jostled for works by some of the most renowned painters in Australia art, further demonstrating that the ‘cultural cringe’ many Australians feel when it comes to our artists has been sidelined.

One particularly sentimental sale was that of Jeffrey Smart’s Luxury Cruise. The piece had been expected to fetch between $350,000 to $480,000 but in the wake of the artist’s death last week, it took in $550,000. Philanthropist and businessman Tim Fairfax purchased the work, which will amount to $671,000 when fees are included.

Neither Reg Grundy nor Joy Chambers-Grundy were in attendance last night, but said they were: ‘Surprised and touched by the amount of interest shown in our works and the auction and we are pleased that paintings of this quality will again be seen and treasured in new homes and collections.’

While he didn’t take home the top result, John Bracks was the man of the evening. He recorded the second and third highest sales of the night for his works The New House, 1953, which sold for $1,952,000 and The Breakfast Table, 1958, which took home $1,464,000. Art consultant Annette Larkin purchased both works.

A third piece by Brack, The jockey and his wife, exceeded pre-sale estimates of $800,000 to sell for $1.59 million.

Big spenders on the night were Larkin, Fairfax and Shapiro Auctioneers founder Andrew Shapiro. Shapiro paid the highest price for Williams’ You Yangs.

The 12 artists who set individual records were: Herbert Badham, Narelle Jublin, Frank Hinder, Fred Williams, Margaret Preston,Tony Ruckson, Weaver Hawkins, Sam Fullbrook, Rosalie Gascoigne, Timothy Johnson, Paddy Jaminji, and Robert Campbell (Jr.).

While the sale has set the record for the largest single owner sale in Australian history, it fell $3.3 million short of taking home the title for the most expensive Australian art auction ever, with that title still held by a May 2007 Sotheby’s mixed vendor sale valued at $22.5 million.

About the author

Sarah Adams is the Deputy Editor at ArtsHub. Follow her on twitter @sezadams