Estimates range from $2,000-$4,000 for Shay Docking’s 1957 oil painting depicting a street scene in the pretty Victorian seaside town of Port Fairy, to $600,000-$800,000 for Sidney Nolan’s crossing the riverfrom 1964.
While we won’t know for sure until next week’s auction, Cbus’ initial investment of $2 million appears to have paid off, perhaps not as well as a superfund would like, but respectably enough. The highlight sale is estimated to total between $5.5 million and $7.7 million. A total of 310 works worth around 9 million US dollars will be sold.
Adjusted for inflation, Cbus’ initial investment of $2 million equates to approximately $4 million today. So if the auction goes as expected, the value of the collection will have at least doubled.
The sale of large corporate collections has proved attractive to buyers, as evidenced by the rush to NAB collection highlights in February. This sale doubled its low estimate and raised $10.5 million (including buyer’s fees), with the online bidding system collapsing due to an onslaught of eager buyers.
However, if you take a closer look at the development of individual artworks in the Cbus collection, it becomes clear that there are no guarantees of investing in art.
“Some things have increased in value dramatically, others have remained flat,” says Deutscher.
Many of the works in the collection have been auctioned before, where Joseph Brown bought them on behalf of Cbus, so you can easily see how prices have evolved.
Judging by the estimates, significant works by established artists such as Russell Drysdale, Jeffrey Smart, Rosalie Gascoigne, Margaret Preston and John Brack have held or increased in market value.
Margaret Preston is vividly colored and much admired Coastal Gums, 1929 for example, with an estimate of $180,000-$240,000, was last sold at Deutscher-Menzies in 2000 for $93,000 (hammer) and has nominally doubled in value over the last two decades. Adjusted for inflation, that $93,000 is equivalent to about $155,000 today. Still, as Deutscher points out, Preston “could ask for a lot more” given the increased interest in her work.
Eugene von Guérard is tiny (18cm x 23cm) but beautiful On American Creek near Wollongong, c. 1859 to 1861, has an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. It sold at auction for $48,000 (hammer price) in 2000, which is $80,000 today, just above its current lower estimate. In real terms, its value has hardly changed.
An early painting by Cressida Campbell on paper, Reflection from mosquito coils, from 1980, was last sold at auction in 1991 for only $500 (hammer) – about $1000 real. Campbell’s one-of-a-kind woodcut paintings are stirring up a storm at auction these days, with their current record at $420,000 (hammer). The porchfrom 1987. The impressionistic, almost Matisse-esque Reflection from mosquito coils very different from what buyers of Campbell’s are most interested in at auction, but may appeal to dedicated collectors of her work who want an early example. It has an estimate of $5,000 to $7,000, a real five to sevenfold increase over the 1991 price.
Campbell tells Saleroom she created the painting while living with a few other artists in Palm Beach on Sydney’s North Beaches and the group spent their days painting and drawing.
“There were always a lot of mosquito coils,” says Campbell. She also made and painted the frame. She laughs and adds: “I haven’t changed much, have I? Half of my paintings are called reflections of something. I’m working on a studio reflection right now.”
As mentioned, most of the paintings in the Cbus collection have already been auctioned, but a few are fresh on the market, including that of William Delafield Cook Hill, Ellerston, 1990, which is estimated at $150,000-$200,000 and was purchased directly from the artist by Joseph Brown. Eveline Symes stylized pastoral scene, Tuscan landscape, c. 1930 is also auctioned for the first time with an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000.
The Highlights Auction will be followed by the three special online auctions in August, each featuring Modern and Contemporary Art, Traditional and Modern Art and Indigenous Art from the Cbus Collection.
Ahead of the auction, Cbus declined to comment on whether the art collection was a worthwhile investment, but one thing is certain and that is the immeasurable return on community goodwill. Joseph Brown made it a condition of becoming Cbus’ art advisor that the collection be loaned to regional galleries so that people in these predominantly working-class areas could have access to important Australian art. The collection was managed by the Latrobe Regional Gallery in Gippsland, Victoria and distributed through public galleries in Wollongong, Newcastle, Geelong, Broken Hill, Bendigo, the Mornington Peninsula and Launceston.
Who knows, maybe this encounter with art changed a life or two. This is the kind of result that cannot be found in any chart, and its value is priceless.