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Why Kay Lanceley is selling artist husband Colin Lanceley’s collection and how Malcolm Turnbull saved him
Andrew Taylor, Deputy Arts Editor
Published in Sydney Morning Herald
30 September 2015
It is a photograph of her artist husband Colin, hair tousled and smiling, taken by Max Dupain around 1990.
“He and Colin actually swapped so Colin gave him a drawing and he gave the photograph,” she says.
An earlier photo of the couple taken in the ’60s shows them at an archaeological dig in the Spanish countryside.
“We dug up an amphora on the side of a Moorish mountain and I love it because we look so happy,” Lanceley says.
Neither photograph bears the silver dots stuck on many other artworks in the 19th century Surry Hills warehouse that Lanceley shared with her artist husband for more than two decades.
Neither do four small paintings by Idris Murphy – one of the last items purchased by Colin, one of Australia’s leading artists, before his death in January from congestive heart failure.
“I’m keeping them,” she says. “He bought them when he was actually really ill.”
The silver dots signify items to be sold at auction and Lanceley admits the stock take has been “quite difficult”.
“I don’t have enough wall space or shelf space to keep everything,” she says. “It’s not possible. You only need to look around to see it’s not a domestic space here.
“We expanded to fill all the available space because we loved collecting.”
The Lanceleys were eclectic in their tastes. Imposing wooden Afghan doors create a grand entrance to a bedroom, while the floor is scattered with Afghan and Persian rugs.
A Scandinavian painting on tin that Colin outbid the Maritime Museum for, hides in a corner, while rows of brightly coloured pottery line an enormous wooden dresser.
“And then Colin started collecting as well and I got really annoyed about that because he was collecting things and I didn’t impinge.”
Lanceley recalls laying down the law to her husband on one occasion, telling him the collecting was getting out of hand.
But on a visit to Melbourne she fell in love with a lithograph by Joan Miro.
“He bought it for me and then I had to shut up,” she says. “He bought my silence.”
Lanceley has also been trawling through her husband’s vast archive of letters, drawings and other detritus from his long life, which she will donate to the Art Gallery of NSW.
“In the archives that I’ve been looking through, where he kept his receipts, there were a couple of Post-it notes that said, ‘Don’t tell Kay’,” she says. “I think that was a carpet that cost $20,000 actually. I was a bit ‘wow’.”
The head of art at Leonard Joel auction house, Sophie Ullin, expects the sale in November to fetch at least $500,000, but could top $1 million because the collections of artists rarely come to market.
The Estate of Colin Lanceley
Auction: Monday 16 November at 6.30pm
Viewing: 13 November 10am-6pm, 14-15 November 10am-5pm
Auction & Viewing Held Onsite: 2 Esther Lane, Surry Hills, Sydney, NSW