For art’s sake: Thirst for Bill Hammond paintings drives strong bidding

Kiwi art collectors dug deep at Webb’s Works of Art auction tonight, paying high prices for the work of some of New Zealand’s most revered artists.

A major work by the late Christchurch artist Bill Hammond sold for $485,100.

The large acrylic-on-canvas painting, featuring Hammond’s distinctive bird-like creatures and painted in 2015, was one of five Hammonds for sale, three from a private Christchurch collection.

A 1985 acrylic-on-linen Hammond painting, The Strength to Carry On, sold for $97,020 and a 1987 oil-on-copper painting entitled Song Book 3 sold for $45,478.

Late last year the artist’s large acrylic-on-canvas 1999 painting Melting Moments II, from his iconic “green” period, sold for a record $939,881, stunning the art world.

Previously, Hammond artworks had sold for around the $200,000 mark.

Prices for the late artist’s work have escalated since his death in January last year, aged 73, particularly for rarer pieces.

Webb’s director of art Charles Ninow believes Hammond is now in a similar league to renowned New Zealand artists Colin McCahon and Charles F Goldie.

Prices for Hammond’s paintings had increased fivefold over the past 18 months, based on the price per square centimetre, he said.

It was unusual for prices to escalate so quickly after an artist’s death.

“With every artist there is a sweet spot. There are certain periods in their career that people really want. Usually there is already rarity and scarcity built into the price for desirable work.”

After Ralph Hotere died, the market was over-supplied and prices didn’t rise to the same extent, Ninow said.

Hammond’s bird painting, which he began creating in the 90s, rarely came on the market because many were in museums, art galleries and with private collectors who did not want to part with them.

Since the artist’s death, collectors and investors had realised the importance of Hammond’s work as one of New Zealand’s greatest contemporary artists, and the fact that supply was constrained.

Kiwis were increasingly investing in good New Zealand art as an insurance against inflation, he said.

The Works of Art auction was a collection of who’s who in the Kiwi art world with works by Colin McCahon, Tony Fomison, Max Gimblett, Don Binney, Gordon Walters, Toss Woollaston, Para Matchitt, Ralph Hotere, Shane Cotton, Michael Parekōwhai, Michael Smither, Peter Siddell, Dick Frizzell, Frances Hodgkins and Philip Clairmont on offer.

Buyers were noticeably cautious with many of the artworks not meeting reserve on the night, although bidders could negotiate after the auction.

One Colin McCahon painting was passed in, subject to negotiation, another sold for $90,956.

Michael Smither’s 1973 oil-on-board painting Rockpools, from the estate of New Zealand writer and playwright Maurice Shadbolt, sold for $145,530. Another Smither’s oil painting, Sunbathers on Board Ship, painted in 1968, sold for $72,765.

A 1973 Gretchen Albrecht acrylic on canvas, Threefold, sold for $127,338 while a second Albrecht painting, A ‘Penumbra (In Memory of my Father) did not meet the reserve.

A 2011 oil-on-canvas painting, Untitled, by Kiwi artist Andrew McLeod sold for $84,892.

A Ralph Hotere sketch, Drawing for a Black Window, sold for $31,531 and a 1908 Frances Hodgkins watercolour, Pansies in a Vase, sold for $72,765.

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