Mysterious bidder 109 was somewhat of a saviour for Sotheby’s Australia during their 15th October Important Aboriginal & Oceanic Art sale in Sydney. Obviously prepared to spend whatever it took to acquire the objects of his desire, Mr. 109 took home most of the traditional Aboriginal artefacts that were offered on the night.

Beginning with Lot 2, a fine Parrying Shield from South East Australia, Mr. 109 asserted his authority early with a final bid of $28,000 for the shield which was more than double the $12,000 high estimate.

An early shield and Lil-Lil from the Darling River Region of New South Wales, estimated to fetch $5,000-$7,000, was his next big conquest against another determined bidder that in the end just couldn’t compete. A final bid of $24,000 secured the lot.

Also going to Mr. 109 were three early clubs executed on Bathurst or Melville Islands which were hammered down for $9,000 against an estimate of $4,000-$6,000 and a collection of artefacts from Blaney in New South Wales that achieved a hammer price of $7,500 against an estimate of $3,000-$5,000.

If only Mr. 109 had been in the market for paintings the overall sale might have been a greater success. The top three lots which consisted of a major work by Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula an important painting by Anatjari Tjakamarra and a beautiful polymer on linen by Ginger Riley, came achingly close to being sold but just didn’t make it over the line.

On a more positive note, an early board by Yala Yala Gibbs Tjungurrayi sold for $45,600 IBP against an estimate of $30,000-50,000. Lot 9, a painting by Prince of Wales (Midpul), also witnessed strong bidding, selling for $32,400 IBP against a predicted $22,000-28,000.

Other highlights included a lovely painting by Albert Namatjira of the Central Australian landscape sold for $26,400 IBP against an estimate of $22,000-$28,000 and a collaborative painting by Jimmy Baker, Kaye Baker and Teresa Baker titled Bush Fig Dreaming which reached the top estimate of $30,000 IBP.

A group of Carte de Visite photographs featuring pictures of Aborigines by C.E. Bevan was another of the highlights of the sale selling for $15,600 IBP against an estimate of $5,000-7,000.

Buyers appeared quite willing to bid high on large paintings that had plenty of visual impact but were not willing to spend big money on smaller, less spectacular paintings even if they were historically important and had impeccable provenance – a sign that buyers have yet to regain full confidence in the Aboriginal art market.

The final sale total was $668,400 including buyer’s premium or 50% by value and 48% by volume. A number of paintings were, however, sold post-sale via private treaty which will add to the final figures.


Artist: Yala Yala Gibbs Tjungurrayi, Anatjari Tjakamarra, Prince of Wales, Ginger Riley, Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula

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