Cbus expects mixed returns in great Australian art sale

Gabriella Coslovich, Australian Financial Review, 20 July 2022

The second big corporate collection to go under the hammer this year goes on view in Melbourne from Thursday ahead of its highly anticipated auction next week. Superannuation fund Cbus is selling off its entire art collection across four auctions at Deutscher and Hackett, launching with the sale of 100 “highlights” next Wednesday night in Melbourne.

The “highlights auction” features Australia’s most celebrated artists, including Eugene von Guerard, Arthur Streeton, Arthur Boyd, Clarice Beckett, Sidney Nolan, Jeffrey Smart, Fred Williams, Margaret Preston, and an early painting by current art market sensation Cressida Campbell.

 Sydneysiders had the first taste of the “highlights” during a week of viewings at Deutscher and Hackett’s Paddington gallery that ended on Sunday.

“It was constantly busy on the weekend, there’s no sign of the market quietening down,” says Deutscher and Hackett’s co-executive director Chris Deutscher. “And it was a good mix of ages, from older established collectors to younger collectors.”

It has been busy year for Deutscher and Hackett, which also auctioned the highlights of National Australia Bank collection in February in a sale that pulled in $10.5 million (with buyer’s fees included). While the NAB collection focused on art from the 1970s, the Cbus collection, established in 1992 with influential Melbourne dealer Joseph Brown as the sole adviser, ranges across 160 years of art history, from the colonial to the contemporary.

“The only point of difference that I see is that it’s a sort of A to Z collection, broadly speaking, and it has a vast range in value and styles, therefore it appeals to a broad audience,” Deutscher says.

Estimates range from $2000 to $4000 for Shay Docking’s 1957 oil painting of a street scene of the pretty Victorian coastal town of Port Fairy to $600,000 to $800,000 for Sidney Nolan’s Crossing the River, from 1964.

While we won’t know for sure until next week’s auction, Cbus’s initial investment of $2 million appears to have paid off, perhaps not as handsomely as a super fund would like, but respectably enough. The highlights sale is estimated at a total of $5.5 million to $7.7 million. In all, 310 works will be sold, valued at a total of about $9 million.

Adjusted for inflation, Cbus’s initial $2 million investment is the equivalent to about $4 million today, so if the auction performs within expectation the collection will have at least doubled in value.

 Sales of big corporate collections have proved attractive to buyers, as seen by the rush for the NAB collection highlights in February. That sale doubled its low estimate to bring in $10.5 million (including buyer’s fees), with the online bidding system crashing because of the onslaught of eager buyers.