2017 – The Fine Art Year In Review

By May 30, 2018News

Highest selling artwork at auction this year:
Charles Goldie, ‘Ka Pai Te Kai Paipa, Portrait of Te Hei, a Maori Chieftainess’,
oil on canvas, 1941, 40.5 x 51 cm.
Price Realised $869,500

Webb’s wishes our clients and friends all the best for the festive season. As the year comes to a close, we are celebrating our achievements. We have sold the four highest-priced artworks on the New Zealand art auction market and achieved total sales of $8.77 million – a milestone in our company’s 38-year history.


Total art sales across the auction market were also strong, with an aggregate turnover of $28 million: the second-highest ever recorded. This exceptional result was fuelled by a buying audience focused on acquiring outstanding New Zealand cultural assets and exemplary works by celebrated artists.

Many new record prices were set over the year, with results at Webb’s confirming an increasingly informed, sophisticated and stable market. The strongest results were achieved for representative examples from celebrated series across all periods and price points. Condition, rarity and provenance, and the stories that inform the works, were carefully considered by an active base of collectors seeking premium examples.

The top end of the market was dominated by the likely suspects: Charles F Goldie and Colin McCahon. All works that achieved the top 10 highest sale prices, released by Australian Art Sales Digest, were created by our leading modernist artists or were of historical significance. The number-one position is held by a magnificent work by Charles F Goldie, which was repatriated to New Zealand this year and sold in our April sale of Important Paintings & Contemporary Art. Also, Goldie’s work accounts for 50% of the top 10 sales, demonstrating that a larger-than-usual number of quality examples of the artist’s work was presented and that there is continued engagement with historically important portraits of tangata whenua amongst a small but astute group of collectors.

Arguably the most rare and important work to be presented in more than two decades was a small drawing of a Māori Ngāi Tahu chief by Charles Rodius, dated 1835, which was purchased by the Hocken Library for $158,565. Hocken librarian Sharon Dell said the drawing was exceptional and unique when compared with other portraits she had seen from that era:

“What is most arresting about it is how accurately this young man’s humanity has been captured; he has an extraordinarily engaging presence”.

Beyond works with historical significance and with the exception of occasional examples by Bill Hammond and Frances Hodgkins, the top 10 sales across the New Zealand auction market consistently constitute works produced in the 1960s and 1970s by our leading modernists. This year, the highest price achieved for a work from the modern period, and coming in as the second-highest sale price of the year, was for Visible Mysteries, by Colin McCahon, which was entrusted for sale to Mossgreen-Webb’s by Gil Hanly and the Hanly family. A number of works from The Warwick & Kitty Brown Collection, sold by Mossgreen-Webb’s in May, set records within the top 10, including a large ‘bird’ painting with a strong conservation message by Don Binney and two works on Steinbach paper by Colin McCahon.

Strong collector engagement for these top-tier works is entirely consistent with market trends over the past decade and prior to that. Less predictable was an increase in demand for works from the early modernist period of the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. A number of factors contributed to this upward shift in prices for signature works from this period, such as a focus from curators and academics, including Julia Waite at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki and author Peter Simpson, on this period of art history. Also, there are collectors with extensive and survey collections, who are looking to ‘connect the dots’, so to speak, and acknowledge the influence these artists had on the development of the modernists of the next generation.

A self-portrait by Leo Bensemann, released by the family of the artist, achieved $31,200against an estimate of $18,000 to $25,000. Two compositions with buildings represented within a flattened picture plane by Charles Tole sold well over estimate and, late last year, a work by Adele Younghusband realised $45,000. A portrait of Trevor Moffitt by Leo Bensemann achieved a new record for the artist’s work when it sold in November for $60,000. The work was acquired by the Alexander Turnbull Library, which holds the country’s most significant collection of Leo Bensemann’s work.

A small watercolour by contemporary artist Michael Harrison also set a new record for the artist’s work at auction when it achieved $17,400, against an estimate of $4,500 to $7,000. This early work was recognised by a highly informed group of collectors as being seminal in the artist’s practice and this result demonstrates the effectiveness of auction as a price-setting tool for highly desirable works.

As we turn to the New Year, entries are now invited for a sale of A2 Art to be held on 27 February 2018 and a sale of Important Paintings & Contemporary Art to be held on 9 April 2018. Please contact Sophie Coupland or Briar Williams to discuss the consignment of works and to obtain specialised information regarding current values.

Sophie Coupland

Director of Art

09 524 6804