The Unusual – 2014 in Review

This year our 2014 wrap breaks with tradition as we highlight ten of the more unusual lots  and stories (rather than just the priciest ones!) that have passed through our rooms over the last twelve months. Without question the most extraordinary find was lot 69 from our March auction of Fine Art (FA), an unrecorded oil painting by the Australian colonial artist Eugene von Guerard (1811-1901) that had been held in one family’s ownership since its commission in 1869.

117The excitement associated with the find was only magnified by the fact that it was discovered by our valuer in a weather beaten country shack in the Western districts.The painting realised $329,400. Next on the list would have to be lot 280from our June auction of Classic Furniture & Objects (CFO), the model boat that formed part of a young owner’s inheritance. Its heritage held more than a curiosity value and after significant research it was identified as a model of the steamship Charlotte Dundas. Both private collectors and institutions expressed interest in the lot during the viewing and it finally sold for a staggering $85,400!

Jewellery secured third place in this review and not because of carat or gold weight. Lot 193 from our September Fine Jewels (FJ) auction, the diamond pendant had been passed down through a Victorian country family and had tantalising history that connected it with the British PM Benjamin Disraeli. But what was so special about it was its central octahedral or naturally formed diamond that formed the centrepiece of the exquisite belle époque necklace. Interestingly it sold to a young couple in the room who were prepared to pay $53,680 for the extremely rare piece of 19th century English design. While much silverware is out of fashion, due largely to the dramatic decline in formal home dining and entertaining, pieces with a more modern sensibility can still manage to buck this trend. Number four on our list was just such a piece and by the maker Georg Jensen it was sure to attract a wider and also younger audience. Lot 320 from our June CFO auction, the elaborate single candelabra was quite likely the most expensive piece of Jensen ever to be sold in Australia. Its elaborate yet monumental design generated multiple bidders and sold for $48,800 – quite a centrepiece for the dining table!

Within Australia French art at auction is a rarity so we were thrilled when lot 183 from our December FA auction, a still life by Bernard Buffet (1928-1999), was presented to us for auction. Its trademark haunting black tones and striking palette set it apart from so many still life paintings and it sold locally after international interest for $42,700. The repatriation of Chinese antiquities and the massive price revisions that seem to be occurring on an almost monthly basis at auction is evident also at Australian auctions. A rare gilt bronze and nephrite censor, lot 160 from our June CFO auction and elaborately carved and detailed, was a fitting piece to be included in this review at sixth place. Its provenance assisted interest levels as it formed part of the late Kurt Albrecht collection; an avid collector from the 1950s to 1990s, Kurt embraced Asian collecting well before it became fashionable. The censor finally sold for $39,040. When music and watches come together collectors seem doubly excited so a beautiful but complicated piece of time takes seventh place. The additional complexity and workmanship required to harmonise both time and melody is not lost on collectors and even the imperfect enamel decoration on this example could not dampen bidders. The repeater pocket watch, lot 142 from our September FJ auction, sold for an impressive $28,060.

Dean Bowen, the contemporary Australian multi-disciplinary artist renowned for his exaggerated forms and often cartoon-like interpretations, deservedly secured eighth position in this review with lot 55 from our September FA auction, his monumental bronze sculpture Aeroplane Boy. The large over-sized boys head and arms, that seemed to extend forever, engaged with so many collectors so not surprising that it realised $23,790 against an estimate of $10,000. A classic category of ornamental Australiana secured second last place. Melted for their extreme gold melt value in the 1970s when few Australians were willing to concede that their own jewellery history was worth collecting, miner’s brooches have enjoyed a resurgence that parallels the commodity boom in Australia. Once again modern-day miners are madly buying up mementos that are both nostalgic and immediately relevant to their activities. This miner’s brooch from Coolgardie, lot 96 from our March FJ auction, realised more than ten times its estimate to sell for $17,080. Finally a piece of porcelain, so out of favour with modern collectors, surprised. No doubt it had much to do with its more than elaborate decoration and scale. Lot 263 from our June CFO auction, the Meissen Schneeballen ewer, was so unashamedly “over the top” and was no doubt the factor that generated such a pleasing result for a category in collecting decline – it sold for $17,080.

John Albrecht for Leonard Joel