“So the exhibition of the final version is really an investigation into his career, not just the remains,” Mora explains. “That’s why I really wanted to have it in a gallery rather than for sale at an auction house.”
Although Bedford had painted ceremonially all his life, he was 76 when the William Mora Galleries presented his first solo exhibition in 1998. By the time of his death in 2007, Bedford had established himself as one of the leading artists First Nations – with a penchant for well-tailored Italian suits.
“He was happy that his paintings made people happy and brought him considerable wealth,” Mora said.
In 2006, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney presented a retrospective of Bedford’s work, with curators completing a catalog raisonné, the first to be produced for an Indigenous Australian artist.
“It’s a wonderful resource and people love having their paintings in a book and having them checked out,” Mora says. “It gives great confidence to collectors.”
In 2006, Bedford was also one of eight First Nations artists commissioned to paint a permanent installation on the ground floor of the Musée du quai Branly in Paris.
Naturally, there is sadness for Mora with this latest version of Bedford’s works.
“I’m thrilled with the show’s success, but at the same time, it’s a full stop,” Mora says. “It has been an incredible journey for us. I remember Paddy very well. He was a very special man who ultimately loved the act of painting and being true to native law.
This full stoppage came sooner than Mora expected. When Mora was appointed to manage the Bedford estate, his friend, Peter Seidel of the law firm Arnold Bloch Leibler, who is co-executor of the estate, drafted the contract. Mora signed without reading the fine print. A few months ago, Seidel reminded Mora that the Bedford estate had to be liquidated by July 2022.
“Next time I sign a deal, I’ll read it,” laughs Mora.
Approximately 60 percent of net proceeds from estate sales will be invested in Gija’s artistic, cultural and educational programs and initiatives.
Forty per cent of Bedford’s works have been sold to international buyers, the rest to Australians, a turnaround for Davidson, whose trade in 2019 went entirely to overseas buyers.
“We knew the local market was getting stronger and it’s now proven,” Davidson said. International collectors remain more enthusiastic than ever, with Davidson planning two overseas exhibitions next year, one in Europe and the other in the United States.
Market strength was demonstrated once again last week with Menzies’ final auction of the year topping its low estimate of $3.12 million to hammer in $3.7 million, or 4.6 millions of dollars once buyer’s costs are added.
“Solid business, we’d call it,” said an elated Brett Ballard, Art Manager at Menzies.
The best lot of the auction, that of Arthur Streeton Pale blue and gold1933, sold for $20,000 above its high estimate, for a hammer price of $270,000.
by Margaret Olley Patricia with fruits and flowers, 1965, more than doubled its low estimate to sell for $130,000 (hammer). Menzies charges a 25% buyer’s premium including GST on top of the hammer price.
The work is part of a series of portraits Olley painted of Indigenous Australian women, many of whom resided in a hostel not far from his family home in Brisbane. While Olley’s portrayal of these women was well-intentioned, as art historian Christine France notes at the National Gallery of Australia’s know my name catalog, “Whether consciously or not, his gesture undoubtedly reflects the assimilation policies of the time”.
New York-based Instagram star CJ Hendry’s debut in the Australian secondary market has been a success, with the artist Red paint sample (small), Blue paint sample (small), 2017, pounding $52,000, more than double its low estimate. The work was contested by an international buyer and a bidder in Menzies’ room in Sydney, with the international buyer winning.
Several works by perennial market favorite Brett Whiteley did extremely well, including the brand new Harry’s Building – Sydney Harbor, 1976, which sold for $94,000 (hammer), $44,000 above its low estimate. ink on paper, Zen monks, flew more than four times above its low estimate to hammer $55,000. Even more astonishing, a lithograph by The cat1980, artist’s proof of an edition of 100, sold for $55,000 (hammer), more than doubling its low estimate, to become the highest price paid for an edition of this work.
“Whiteley is really a taste of the moment,” said Ballard, who is already working on Menzies’ upcoming auction, scheduled for March 2022.
“Based on these results, we are looking for works while the iron is hot.”
Even so, Ballard does not call it a bull market, where unsustainable prices are set.
“We are in a very receptive market,” he said. “He’s receptive to good works and there’s a lot of people out there and a lot of them are new and for us that’s a wonderful thing.”
He is “quite confident” that the strength of the market will continue next year.
“Strong markets bring out strong images and strong prices,” he said.