5 Priciest Australian Artworks
Image Credit: Richard Taylor (A man looks at art in downtown Sydney.)

5 Priciest Australian Artworks


A report by Art Market Insight last month seems to indicate that (though still mostly limited to Sydney and Melbourne), the market for modern and contemporary Australian art is startlingly strong thanks to Australian collectors who in the past few years have been forking out impressive sums for paintings—oil and acrylic, in particular.

I’ve talked before about the booming Asian art market centered in places like Hong Kong. (Summer reports for example showed that world-renowned auction house Sotheby’s saw its targeted sales in Asia rise 180 percent in just the first half of 2010, from $96.7 million last year to $270 million in 2010.) But it seems that art connoisseurs in Australia have too in the past few years been loosening up their purse-strings and kissing goodbye to spending restrictions set by the economic downturn.

Here are 5 Australian works which have been sold at the highest prices between 2000 and 2010:

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1. First-Class Marksman, by Sidney Robert Nolan

Sold: 2010. $4.1 million by auction house Deutscher & Menzies in March 2010.

Nolan remains one of Australia's best-known contemporary painters and First Class Marksman is one of his famous series of 27 paintings depicting legendary bushranger Ned Kelly in the Australian Outback, created between 1946 and 1947.

2. The Olgas for Ernest Giles by Brett Whiteley

Sold: 2007. $2.4 million auction house Deutscher & Menzies in June 2007.

Whiteley's The Olgas for Ernest Giles (1985) became the most expensive Australian painting sold at auction when it was snapped up by a buyer in Sydney in 2007. Brett Whiteley’s works are collected across most big Australian galleries. The artist had a prolific exhibiting career, and travelled extensively around the world including to Fiji, where he’s known for painting locals.

3. The Old Time by John Cecil Brack

Sold: 2007. $2.3 million by Sotheby’s in May 2007.

Australian artist John Cecil Brack’s painting of a couple ballroom dancing selling at such a high price was explained at the time of its sale (by the chairman of Sotheby's in Australia, Justin Miller), as ‘a situation where really and truly, very rarely do works of this quality come to the market, and when they do, one can anticipate a lot of bidding.’

4. Opera House by Brett Whiteley

Sold: 2007. $2 million by Sotheby’s in May 2007

This particular work took Whiteley reportedly more than a decade to finish, and was given by the artist to Qantas airlines in 1982 in exchange for a period of free air travel.

5. The Bar by John Cecil Brack

Sold: 2006. $1.9 million by Sotheby’s in April 2006.

This particular Brack painting is known for being modelled on French impressionist painter Manet's work A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, and satirises the Six o'clock swill, a social ritual that arose in Australian and New Zealand in the mid 20th century as a result of the early closing of bars.

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