‘Star­tling’ works of art up for sale

Ex­plorer’s brush with Abo­rig­ines to fetch $5m

Sunday Tasmanian - - News - ANNE MATHER anne.mather@news.com.au

RARE por­traits of pre-set­tle­ment in­dige­nous Tas­ma­ni­ans have been un­earthed from a pri­vate French col­lec­tion and are ex­pected to set records when auc­tioned in Aus­tralia.

The col­lec­tion of orig­i­nal por­traits and views are from French ex­plorer Ni­co­las Baudin’s voy­age of dis­cov­ery to the “south­ern lands” in 1800-1804.

The en­tire col­lec­tion of 13 works is pre­dicted to fetch be­tween $4 mil­lion and $5.5 mil­lion, and records are ex­pected for both draw­ings and wa­ter­colours pro­duced in Aus­tralia.

Rare art spe­cial­ist Derek McDon­nell said the col­lec­tion was the most star­tling of its type to come on to the mar­ket in decades, and the Tas­ma­nian por­traits were “blaz­ing comets in the known his­tory of the Baudin voy­age”.

“They are ab­so­lutely as­ton­ish­ing. There is an in­cred­i­ble sense of be­ing there and look­ing di­rectly into their eyes,” said Mr McDon­nell, founder of rare book and paint­ing spe­cial­ist, Hordern House.

The works on pa­per are by the two prin­ci­pal artists aboard Baudin’s ship Geographe, Ni­co­las-Martin Petit and Charles-Alexan­dre Les- ueur. The col­lec­tion in­cludes four por­traits of Tas­ma­nian Abo­rig­ines by Petit, dated 1802. The three colour por­traits — in ink, wa­ter­colour and gouache — are ex­pected to fetch from $600,000 to $900,000 each. A pen­cil sketch is ex­pected to fetch $300,000 to $400,000.

The art was pre­vi­ously un­known un­til it re­cently came to light in Paris, where it had been held since the 19th cen- tury by a French fam­ily linked to the artists.

Mr McDon­nell said the por­traits must have been kept in a dark drawer, as they were as fresh and vi­brant as new paint­ings.

“They are the most vi­brant colour, and con­sid­er­ing their date they are in amaz­ing con­di­tion.”

Tas­ma­nian his­to­rian Ali­son Alexan­der urged the Tas­ma­nian Mu­seum and Art Gallery to con­sider pur­chas­ing por­traits from the col­lec­tion that were sig­nif­i­cant to the state.

A spokes­woman for TMAG said the works were “of im­mense sig­nif­i­cance to Tas­ma­nia and Aus­tralia more broadly”.

The works will be on view in Syd­ney and Mel­bourne this month be­fore be­ing auc­tioned on November 28.

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