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Dunbar Sloane clears 99% by lot and 136% by value at the sale of the Noel and Margaret Dick Collection in Wellington Found in: Australian Art Sales Digest - 14 Jun 2019

By Briar Williams in Auckland

The sale of the Noel and Margaret Dick collection held on 12 June 2019 in Wellington was heralded as the last substantial private collection of its type to be offered for sale in New Zealand. Wellington has certainly had its fair share of blockbuster collections, offering The Les and Milly Paris Collection (over two parts in 2012 and 2018), and the Frank and Lyn Corner Collection in 2018. While the Dick Collection was not quite of the same quality or quantity as these other two collections which sold over $5.5 million and $2.1 million respectively, the Wellington-centric audience were out in force pushing numerous works well over their estimates and paying some incredibly strong prices.

The original owners of the collection, Noel and Margaret Dick started collecting concertedly in the late 1970s. While they weren’t well known art world identities like the Paris’s or moving in diplomatic and expatriate circles like the Corners, they were well known attendees and passionate enthusiasts of the auction room, purchasing both decorative arts and art from Dunbar Sloane in Wellington and Cordy’s and Webb’s in Auckland.

An initial focus to collect a single work by each recognized New Zealand artist meant that the collection had an unusual spread of traditional works by some of New Zealand’s earliest artists such as Horatio Robley and W.M Hodgkins which were purchased at the beginning of their collecting journey right through to the contemporary artists they decided to support throughout their lifetime.

Selected highlights of the auction had been sent to Auckland a few weeks prior and the Wellington viewing had been very strong with over 200 people packed into the Dunbar Sloane rooms on auction night.

With few Auckland dealers or consultants in the room, most of the action came from Wellington buyers, and the sale started very strongly with five works by Wellington artist and teacher, Sam Cairncross all selling for two and three times their estimates. Storm Clouds over Ocean Beach (Lot 2 ), realized $6,500 against a $2,000 reserve.

The selection of works by Auckland modernists, John and Charles Tole provided the first clue of where the sale was heading with an attractive but not outstanding painting by John Tole, Viaduct, Central Plateau (Lot 12 ) realizing $38,000 against a $20,000-30,000 estimate. John’s more popular brother Charles, who was the more cubist and less painterly of the two was represented by Hawea (Lot 14 ) a stunning geometric representation of a container ship at port which made $33,000 against a $25,000-35,000 estimate.

An allegorical watercolour by A. Lois White, Winter’s Approach, (Lot 19 ), which is a study for a work in the Te Papa collection, sailed through the $10,000-$15,000 estimate to realise $28,000 which is a new artist record for a work on paper.

Rita Angus’s beautifully lit drawing Evening, From the Angus Collage, Thorndon (Lot 21 ) was the most extraordinary result of the night. Purchased for just $12,000 in 1999, it was strongly estimated at $60,000-$80,000 and an absentee bid at low estimate opened the bidding. The fast bidding in $5,000 increments quickly rose to $135,000, setting yet another auction record for a work on paper for Rita Angus.

The collection included three works by Toss Woollaston which all sold well on the night, but the most surprising result was for The Dead Christ After Bellini (Lot 22 ). This is a rare subject in Woollaston’s oeuvre and a considerably more difficult picture when compared to his well-known landscapes. There much interest in the lot and multiple bidders pushed the price from $40,000 to $95,000, well exceeding the upper estimate of $50,000.

One of the most anticipated lots in the auction was Colin McCahon’s North Otago Landscape 3 (Lot 25 ). The best and most pure example of the North Otago Series to be offered at auction since the 1980s, this work had the potential to really set the room alight. The auctioneer opened the bidding at the mid-range of the estimate at $500,000 and this potentially shut down any bidders who were active at the lower end of the estimate, as it was a short and sharp back and forth between a bid on the sheets and an art consultant in the room. The absentee bidder won the day at $600,000 and the painting achieved a price deserving of its quality.

The momentum of the sale carried on with the remaining lots being dispatched quickly and the sale wrapping up in around 2 hours. Highlights in the second half of the sale included a very attractive watercolour by Margaret Stoddart of The Red Hut, Arthur’s Pass (Lot 40 ) realizing $14,000 and E Meryn Taylor’s refined linocut titled Hine (Lot 50 ) selling for $8,500.

The last lots of the sale included studio glass by Ann Robinson, ceramics by Jim Greig and a very interesting work titled Bamboo Totem  with felt tip decoration by Guy Ngan, very attractively estimated at $100-$200. Ngan is the subject of a current retrospective at The Dowse in Lower Hutt and his solid modernist forms are in hot demand at the moment. This modest lot had lots of bids on the night and realized $800.

Hopefully there will be more private collections hidden away out there that will see the light of day in the not too distant future, but if not, the Dick Collection certainly went out on a high, hammering $1.8 million on the night and clearing 99% by lot and 136% by value. Well done Dunbar Sloane and well done Wellington!