Update: Brett Whiteley’s Hummingbird and Frangipani sold for AU $719,800, or $538,366, at Bonhams Sydney.
What you see: Hummingbird and Frangipani, a 1986 oil on board by Australian artist Brett Whiteley. It comes directly from its original owner to Bonhams, which estimates it at $280,000 to $350,000 in Australian dollars, or $210,000 to $260,000 in U.S. dollars.
Who is Brett Whiteley? He was one of the leading Australian artists of the 20th century. He traveled the world, living in England and the U.S. as well as Australia. In 1978 he achieved the feat of winning the Archibald Prize, the Sulman Prize, and the Wynne Prize, the only time all three prestigious Australian art awards have gone to the same person. Overall, he won each award twice. He made several attempts to quit alcohol and drugs, but ultimately died of an opiate overdose in 1992, at the age of 53.
How often did Whiteley portray hummingbirds and frangipani? “He was fascinated with birds, and painted them from the 1970s onward,” says Alex Clark, an Australian art specialist at Bonhams. “You can often find frangipani hidden in the backgrounds of his paintings. You can find them all over Sydney, and being a Sydney boy, he had a close connection to them. This is a very beautiful painting that combines two of his favorite subject matters.”
How often did he paint birds? “He’s renowned for his birds,” he says. “In general, the bird is a sign of peace and freedom. Whiteley led a bit of a tumultuous life. When he painted birds, he was in a happier place. It gave him a lot of joy.”
How does Hummingbird and Frangipani showcase Whiteley’s strengths? “He has an amazing ability to give movement to paintings,” Clark says. “In this, you see it in the beautiful sweeping line of the hummingbird’s wing.”
What else makes Hummingbird and Frangipani a strong Whiteley work? “It’s an extremely elegant work, and it has great wall power,” he says. “It’s exciting to handle a work of this nature, especially since no one has seen it for 30 years. And his bird paintings are very sought-after.”
Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Bonhams.