‘Startling’ works of art up for sale
Explorer’s brush with Aborigines to fetch $5m
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.