Menzies Auctioneers

Tagged in Art Investment

Catherine Baxendale is a Senior Art Specialist at Menzies Auctioneers, one of Australia’s premier fine art auction houses. Catherine’s role involves valuing, consigning and selling fine art at Menzies’ specialist auctions of Important Australian & International Art, which are held three to four times annually in Sydney and Melbourne. In November 2020, Menzies established a new record price for any work of Australian art at auction, with the sale of Henri’s Armchair 1974-75 by Brett Whiteley for $6.136 million (including buyer’s premium).

Our clients often ask for advice when downsizing from a large family home to an apartment. Often their art collection doesn’t suit the new apartment in terms of style and scale. What advice would you offer someone looking to downsize?

Auctioneers used to speak of the three ‘D’s – divorce, debt and death.  Downsizing now makes up the fourth ‘D’ – a happier reason for selling than the others! My main advice would be not to rush the process but to take time to consider the scale and character of your new home, along with how your collecting tastes may have changed over time. Downsizing offers an opportunity to consolidate your collection, both through judicious selling and the acquisition of works that are better suited to your new home. A common tendency at the moment is for clients to start collecting art that is more contemporary in style – they may have recently moved from an older Victorian or Federation-era home into a modern apartment with lots of natural light and a more open floorplan. Modern apartments can present a challenge for art collectors (less wall space, increased light exposure) but you can also get creative with small sculpture or installations, for example.  For clients who are in the process of downsizing, we can provide climate-controlled storage for works of art at Menzies’ dedicated facility in Melbourne.

Do auctioned artworks need to be by artists with a secondary market?

Menzies operates at the upper end of the secondary art market in Australia, with works ranging from around $5,000 – $5 million in value. Ideally an artist will have an established secondary market, with a documented history at auction that we can draw upon, but this is often not the case with contemporary artists. If an emerging or mid-career artist has a healthy gallery following, or if there has been institutional interest in their work from major state and regional galleries, this can present an opportunity to introduce their work to the secondary market through the auction process. Menzies has played a leading role in the development of the secondary market for Australian contemporary art. Over the last twelve months, we have established new auction records for a host of contemporary Australian artists, including Reko Rennie, Neil Frazer, Tony Clark, Robert Owen, Robert Hunter and Zhong Chen.

Can you outline the auction process?

We begin by providing the client with a complimentary appraisal, either in person or online. If the work is suitable for sale with Menzies, we put together a detailed auction proposal which includes an auction estimate and reserve for the work, along with any charges that may be associated with the sale, like commission or copyright fees. Our estimates are deliberately conservative and are based on recent auction results for works by the artist that we judge to be comparable in scale, medium, quality, date, subject, rarity and condition. If the client chooses to proceed with consigning the work to sale, we arrange for delivery of the work and complete more detailed cataloguing and research once it has arrived at our gallery. For particularly important and valuable works, we commission dedicated catalogue essays which are written by our specialists and leading scholars or curators in the field. The work of art is then professionally photographed and published in our printed and online catalogues, which are distributed to our extensive base of Australian and international clients. All works in our auctions of Important Australian & International Art are exhibited at our galleries in Sydney and Melbourne during the weeks leading into the sale, in conjunction with VIP client events. Our specialists adopt a proactive and highly targeted approach to the marketing of each sale by identifying prospective buyers and cultivating pre-sale interest. The fall of the auctioneer’s hammer is the culmination of a long process!

Do Menzies offer art valuation or appraisal for insurance purposes?

Absolutely. Our specialists can provide formal valuations for insurance or other legal purposes, such as probate or family settlement.

What do you love about your role at Menzies?

I have the privilege of handling an enormous variety of works of art, and meeting the people who own them. We often have the opportunity to see works by particular artists or from periods of art history that are not well represented in public collections.  Important works of art from private collections will often remain in private hands, so we only see them for a brief window of their existence. We recently handled the sale of a major Fred Williams painting, Kew Billabong 1976, which was appearing at auction for the first time after having remained in the same family collection for 45 years – that was special. I am a passionate collector myself (albeit on a modest scale) so can share in our clients’ excitement when they make a new acquisition and continue to develop their collection. I am also fortunate to be part of a small, talented and collegial team at Menzies.

What has been your most exciting / challenging artwork or discovery?

I recently handled the sale of a rare and lovely subject painting by Emanuel Phillips Fox, En Déshabillé c1911, created in Paris at the height of the Belle Époque.  The work had been miscatalogued when it was last sold in the mid-1970s, so we were effectively starting from scratch when confirming its provenance and exhibition history.  Combing through old exhibition catalogues, I came across the title En Déshabillé – ‘in a state of undress’ – which seemed a likely match for our painting of a Parisienne in her petticoat and stockings.  As luck would have it, I was able to find detailed descriptions of En Déshabillé in newspaper reviews when the painting was exhibited in Melbourne and Sydney in 1913.  There was no disputing this was our painting!  It was enormously satisfying to be able to present this work at auction for the first time, and under its proper title.  The painting did not disappoint at auction, selling for $208,000 (including buyer’s premium) against an estimate of $100,000 – 150,000.


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