Sotheby’s will present its inaugural London sale in the field of Aboriginal art on June 10. This auction is the first of its kind to be held by a major auction house outside of Australia.
Showcasing work by indigenous Australians spanning more than 200 years, the sale is focused around a selection of works from the Thomas Vroom Collection, one of Europe’s largest and most important collections of Aboriginal art.
Of the 75 lots on offer, 64 come from the collection of Thomas Vroom, and a further 11 from collections in the UK, USA, Italy and Australia.
Tim Klingender, Sotheby’s, senior consultant Australian Art, who has curated the sale, said:
“With the Vroom Collection at the heart of the sale we are able to offer works of exceptional historical importance and significance, rarity and quality. These museum quality artworks range from early stone carved shields, extraordinary bark paintings of erotic spirit figures and Wanjina beings, early Papunya paintings from the beginnings of the Western Desert art movement, to contemporary paintings by the most acclaimed artists in the field, including Rover Thomas and Emily Kngwarreye.”
Within Thomas Vroom’s holdings of Aboriginal art are two important collections that he acquired in the 1990s: The Lance Bennett Collection, which features art of western Arnhem Land and the Tiwi islands, and the Kim Akerman Collection of Wanjina paintings from the Kimberley region in north Western Australia.
The Lance Bennett Collection includes rare paintings on bark depicting the sexual exploits of spirit figures. Similar to paintings found in the rock art of the region, the production of these paintings was discouraged and suppressed by the missionaries who were the only outlet for artist’s production in the 1960s. Of particular note are the bark paintings by Nadjombolmi, who is acknowledged as the greatest rock painter of the Kakadu region over the last 100 years.
Research revealed that the earliest bark painting in the collection, a rare depiction of a Tiger Shark on a black ground from Groote Eylandt (estimate £5000-8000), had been collected on the American-Australian expedition to Arnhem Land on 1948, and was published in the associated records.
Following this important expedition the collected paintings were dispersed among Australian national and state institutions and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., with only a handful of works being acquired by members of the expedition. This work is one of only four examples ever to come to auction.
The Kim Akerman Collection was assembled by the young anthropologist while working in the field in north Western Australia in the early 1970s, and consists of the most important collection of paintings of Wanjina beings ever offered at auction. Wanjina beings are the storm beings that come in the form of clouds in the wet season and nourish and replenish all aspects of life, and then retire to their homes on the walls of rock shelters in the region.
Of particular significance is Alec Mingelmanganu’s Wanjina (Austral Gothic), his first documented painting. Although his career spanned just six years, Mingelmanganu is considered the greatest painter of Wanjina beings and his works have regularly commanded six figures at auction.