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Pedigree and Panache

Pedigree and Panache: A History of the Art Auction in Australia OPEN ACCESS

Shireen Huda
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: ANU Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt24hdmd
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  • Book Info
    Pedigree and Panache
    Book Description:

    Art auctions have long captured the public imagination. They regularly make news headlines and have become synonymous with glamour, money and social distinction. The marketing of auction houses and the works they sell has resulted in firms attaining authoritative positions and the ability both to influence and reflect collecting tastes. Pedigree and Panache is the first comprehensive history of the art auction in Australia. In this fascinating work, Shireen Huda investigates the construction of the glamorous reputation of art auctions and art auction houses. Featuring absorbing case studies of key art auctions and major art auction houses in Australia (including Christie's, Sotheby's and Deutscher-Menzies) the work provides an overview of the origin and international development of art auctions. The development of the Australian marketplace is then explored, detailing colonial inception and continuing until Christie's withdrawal of its saleroom presence in 2006. This book is an engaging read for those involved in the art industry, as well as historians, artists, collectors and anyone interested in the art market, art investment, social history and art history.  

    eISBN: 978-1-921313-72-1
    Subjects: Art & Art History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction (pp. 1-6)

    Art auctions are fascinating affairs. Each one is different, a fresh contest played out in the saleroom, the arena in which art and money openly combine, separate and reconfigure. Art auctions are veiled in a mystique beyond their elitist overtones and functional reality. They are places where phenomenal — and well-publicized — sums exchange for works of distinction, while some works stay ignominiously, unexpectedly, unsold; for in the saleroom, ‘while the good need not be expensive, the expensive must always be good’.² Fashionable people mingle at the previews, notable people are seen at the auction, dealers and consultants make conspicuous bids — auctions...

  2. Auctions have provided people with a means to conduct trade for aeons, with antecedents in the ancient world. The Greek historian, Herodotus, wrote the earliest extant account of auctioneering when he described a regular Babylonian marriage market of about 500BC. The ancient Romans were keen auction participants and the word ‘auction’ is actually derived from the Latin auctio, which means ‘increase’ or ‘auction sale’, and this definition confirms that the increasing, or ascending, system of auctioneering was used, as is the practice in Australian auctions today.

    A number of the auctioneering practices and expressions identified in this chapter have helped...

  3. The Victorian artist Edwin Long’s painting, The Babylonian Marriage Market (1875), was inspired by Herodotus’s account of the auction of women, but the painting quickly acquired an auction history of its own. In 1882 it was bought by Thomas Holloway at Christie’s in London for £6615. Holloway (1800–83) was a millionaire whose fortune had been made from patent medicines and a great philanthropist, who had founded Royal Holloway College (now Royal Holloway, University of London), for women, in 1879. The Babylonian Marriage Market is both the largest work and a key painting in the Royal Holloway Collection, a collection...

  4. Although auctions were commonly used for conducting art transactions from almost the inception of the Australian colonies in the late eighteenth century, there were also other vehicles through which art was bought and sold. These included retail stores, art dealers, art unions, Mechanics’ Institutes, artists’ exhibitions, artists’ societies, private commissions, photographers selling on-site and black and white illustrations in periodicals and newspapers.

    The lack of a structured art market in the colonial period meant that art was often relegated to non-institutional avenues for exhibition and sale and was also often a sideline to other retail business. Artists such as Eugène...

  5. A handful of influential art auctions held in Australia in the 1960s resulted in a boom in the purchase of Australian art for investment purposes and probably contributed to Christie’s decision to establish a base in Australia. The most significant was the Schureck sale conducted by Lawson’s in Sydney in 1962. Though Lawson’s, like Leonard Joel in Melbourne, was a general auctioneering firm, art played a prominent role in the business from its establishment and together the two firms had arguably the greatest effect on the 1960s Australian art auction market. A number of other firms, such as Geoff K....

  6. The commercialization and global expansion of Christie’s and Sotheby’s post-World War II laid the foundation for many methods and practices adopted in art auctions in Australia, particularly after the arrival of Christie’s in 1969.

    The key figure in establishing an Australian branch of Christie’s was the Australian-born William Spowers, who essentially co-founded it with Len Voss Smith in April 1969. Spowers had been educated at Geelong Grammar in Victoria and joined the Army in 1942, transferring to the British Army the following year. While serving in the army overseas, he subsidized his pay by buying books and manuscripts and selling...

  7. Sotheby’s was not formally established in Australia until November 1982, although it did have an Australian presence prior to that. Reginald Longden, a collector and dealer of Oriental art, was Sotheby’s representative in Australia and New Zealand (based in Melbourne) from early 1968 and was responsible for sourcing stock to be sent to London for sale and conducting valuations. His purview included Australia, the Philippines, Japan and Hong Kong. Longden resigned after only one year because he found the job to be ‘most frustrating’.¹ Sotheby’s next representative was Bruce Rutherford who owned a jewellery and antiques firm in Collins Street,...

  8. Robert Bleakley said in 1993 that ‘The role of the auction house is to create the situation where everyone is offered the chance to set a price. The auctioneer is adjudicator. He’s there for the buyer and seller’.¹ The auction house acting as buyer, vendor, dealer, even curator — an all-encompassing agent — has been attributed to initiatives by Peter Wilson three decades ago.

    Christie’s and Sotheby’s introduced numerous innovations or modifications in the local marketplace which reflect, to some degree, the institutional personae of the two firms. These innovations included buying-in, bidding numbers and referrals, reserve and estimate setting procedures, setting...

  9. There are numerous auction houses in Australia, many of which deal in art. The Art Newspaper — Guide to Art Auctions Worldwide listed only a handful of Australian auction houses in 2002 — in Melbourne, Christie’s, Deutscher-Menzies, Leonard Joel and Sotheby's, and in Sydney, Christie’s, Deutscher-Menzies, Goodmans, Lawson-Menzies, Sotheby’s and Shapiro Auctioneers.¹ The list helps to provide the framework for this chapter, which looks at a number of active and inactive art auction houses; namely, F. R. Strange, Geoff K. Gray, Lawson’s/Lawson-Menzies, Leonard Joel, Phillips/Shapiro Auctioneers, Goodmans/Bonhams & Goodman and Deutscher-Menzies.

    Developments in the Australian art auction market in the early 1970s...