Criss Canning and “The Man of Flowers”
A little over thirty years ago when I was still living in the Dandenong ranges,...
As we enter the Year of the Rooster, in what some may view as auspicious, Leonard Joel’s first 2017 Fine Art sale sees women coming up trumps.
Our front cover features Clarice Beckett’s mesmeric Yacht at Sunset (lot 25) c.1928 whom despite a dearth of support from her male peers, painted continuously throughout her life, albeit mostly in the shadows. Timely recognition only came after her death when Rosalind Hollinrake, (then Humphries) in the 1970s granted Beckett’s her work the exposure it long deserved and set her place as one of Australia’s most significant modernists.
By contrast, an artistic sisterhood was more readily available and nurturing to artists Dorrit Black and Ethel Spowers who are represented in this sale by two uncommon works. Black’s contemporaneous wartime era scene, At the Cafeteria (lot 30) c.1943 is notable as a monochromatic rendering and also for being an inverse representation of this image. Spowers’ The Rocking Horse (lot 31) 1927 is a thrilling discovery as it is not too often that ‘ghostly’ works, known but largely unseen, come to light. This the first to appear at auction and it is speculated that Spowers never released it as an edition, enticing further research.
The dark horse in this sale may indeed be Ina Gregory, an artist inspired by esotericism and who is represented by eleven works that showcase her focus on portraiture, landscape and spiritualism. With only a handful of works ever brought to auction and perhaps better known by some for her close connections with Impressionist Jane Price, this spotlight may raise the veil higher and grant more context to her oeuvre –the lure of further discovery beckons.
The march of women continues on the other side of the fence with The Collection of a Lady forming the preeminent collection in this sale. Brimming with classic and handsome landscapes by Adrian Feint and Kenneth Macqueen, nocturnal scenes also clearly found firm favour evidenced by Arthur Streeton’s purple-hued Night Scene (83) 1890 and David Davies Day’s End (lot 84), both of which featured in the Ballarat Art Gallery’s 1974 celebrated exhibition, Moonrise.
At the Contemporary end of the spectrum is another edition from Jan Nelson’s series Walking in Tall Grass depicting a female subject, Iris after our September offering of Viktor (lot 193). Close to a century after Beckett, Nelson may still work in an environment where male artists are predominant however it is no longer a game of masters and apprentices between the genders as opportunities and expectations are thankfully more evenly matched. The (re)contextualising of twentieth century women artists has certainly been a welcome trend of the last decades, however in the future these acute and timely re-evaluations will probably not occur as readily or be required in this more level playing field. Already auction indications are encouraging – look no further than our recent sale of Patricia Piccinini’s Cyclepups: Firestarter which along with Ben Quilty’s offerings belong to the currently small clique of Contemporary works that have matched their gallery prices, a rare feat in an evolving market and something to crow about!
Sophie Ullin, National Head of Art
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