Brett Whiteley painting set to break Australian auction records

Australian art auction records could be broken with the sale of a sought-after Brett Whiteley (1939-1992) painting. It is expected to fetch between AU$5 million (£2.7 million) and AU$7 million (£3.8 million). 

Whiteley painted ‘Henri’s Armchair’ in 1974, using a combination of oil, ink and charcoal on canvas. Measuring 1.95 by 3.02 metres, it shows an interior view of the acclaimed artist’s Lavender Bay studio-home with Sydney Harbour visible in the distance. The painting is part of Whiteley’s famous Lavender Bay series, which took inspiration from French impressionist Henri Matisse.  

In my opinion, this is the best painting by Whiteley to ever be offered for sale on the secondary market,” declared Justin Turner, Head of Art at Menzies Art Brands. He described the upcoming sale at Menzies as a “once in a lifetime opportunity”. 

Sidney Nolan’s (1917-1992) ‘First-class Marksman’ (1946) from his Ned Kelly series is presently the highest value Australian artwork to have sold at auction. In 2010, it was purchased by the Art Gallery of New South Wales for a whopping AU$5.4 million (£2.9 million). My Armchair’ holds the current auction record for a Whiteley painting, fetching AU$3.9 million (£2.2 million) with buyer’s premium at Menzies in 2013.  

Recalling ‘Henri’s Armchair’, the artist’s muse and former wife Wendy Whiteley said “I think it’s a very significant work.” She added “I have no idea if someone is going to pay $5 million to $7 million. The amount of money people will pay for a very mediocre Warhol is absolutely mind-boggling, so I go, $5 million is nothing.” 

The considerably large painting is fresh to the market with an impressive provenance too. Whiteley sold it directly to the celebrated barrister Clive Evatt QC in 1975. ‘Henri’s Armchair’ hung in the lawyer’s library at his Turramurra home until he passed away in 2018. Elizabeth Evatt, his widow, decided to sell the painting soon after. 

The painting has been on Menzies’ radar for many years, and I have been talking about it with Elizabeth Evatt for the better part of the last three,” Turner explained. “I am of course very grateful to her for entrusting the sale of this masterpiece to Menzies. It is certainly the highlight of my career.” 

Although Covid-19 has evidently had an impact on the art world, Turner still thinks Whiteley’s painting will “breeze through” the record books. He remarked that “despite the global pandemic, it has been an incredibly buoyant year for the Australian art market, with numerous new artist auction price records being set and clearance rates across the major art auction houses, both by value and volume, proving to be exceptionally strong.” 

The single lot auction will take place in Sydney on 26 November 2020, with by-appointment-only viewings beginning in Kensington from 12 November 2020. 

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