Colin McCahon – Is there anything we can say, Look, it’s new? (1982). Video / Provided
Jane Phare recalls her first close view of a Colin McCahon painting as one of the artist’s masterpieces is set to fetch a stunning price at an art auction this month .
In 1993, the
Herald sent me to interview art collector and philanthropist Jenny Gibbs to talk about her work as a dedicated and generous benefactor of the arts.
But there was another purpose to the mission. “See if you can find out if it was Jenny who bought the McCahon,” my editor said. The media had previously covered, in disbelief, a new record high for a McCahon painting paid for by a mysterious anonymous buyer. It seemed like a huge sum at the time, several hundred thousand if I remember correctly.
Gibbs, now Dame Jenny, and I drank tea and talked for an hour at her beautiful home on Paritai Drive – part home and part stunning art gallery. Finally, I asked him THIS question. “Did you buy the McCahon?”
Gibbs’ face remained expressionless as she studied me. Then she looked up, ever so slightly, to a place above and beyond my head. I turned and there it was in all its magnificence on the vast wall behind me – a large painting by McCahon.
Gibbs’ name came up this week as the owner of one of the last three paintings McCahon completed in 1982, which she bought for $100,000 after his death in 1987. Another of the 1982 paintings is on display at the National Gallery of Australia and now the third -Mccahon’s Is there anything you can say Look This Is New about? – is up for sale this month at an auction of BNZ’s multi-million collection of contemporary New Zealand paintings, prints and photographs. The painting is expected to sell for between $1.5 and $2.5 million.
As University of Auckland associate professor Dr Linda Tyler wryly remarks of the Gibbs purchase: “Now $100,000 spent in 1987 seems like a pretty good investment.”
The McCahon is one of 50 paintings that will go on sale September 18, and another 150 pieces will be sold at a second Webb auction on September 27. The collection, which includes works by renowned artists Colin McCahon, Rita Angus, Gordon Walters, Toss Woollaston, Gretchen Albrecht, Milan Mrkusich, Don Binney and Ralph Hotere, is expected to raise over $10 million.
The proceeds will fund a BNZ philanthropic foundation set up to help community and iwi organizations across New Zealand work to improve the lives of Kiwis. Webb’s will also donate a significant portion of its sales fees to the new foundation.
The BNZ collection has a fine pedigree. During the pre-stock market crash of the early 1980s, the bank commissioned renowned Wellington art dealer Peter McLeavey to build an art collection that would represent the best of contemporary New Zealand art.
McLeavey took the task seriously, purchasing paintings, prints and photographs between 1982 and 1987, works of art which would hang at BNZ’s head office in Wellington and, later, in Auckland for the enjoyment of staff and client. Tyler remembers touring for BNZ, showing the public paintings that hung “cheek by jowl” in the bank’s art room.
McCahon’s Is there anything you can say Look This Is New about? originally hung in an executive suite in the bank’s Wellington Building in Willis St and later above a staircase in the bank’s Shortland St building in Auckland. The work has been loaned to other galleries in New Zealand, Australia and the Netherlands, as have other pieces from the Banks collection.
In 1993 McLeavey was asked to comment on the proposed sale of the McCahon, to which he replied: “It’s one of the cornerstones of the Bank of New Zealand’s art collection. Lots of prestige emanates from this object.”
The bank never sold the painting, until now. Another of McCahon’s paintings,
Oh let’s cry
painted in 1969, is also for sale and is expected to fetch between $800,000 and $1.6 million.
, McCahon’s 1952 painting of his humble home in Titirangi, was bought from Webb’s by BNZ in 1984 for $50,000, a fair amount of money at the time. It is expected to sell for between $350,000 and $550,000.
by Tony Fomison Icon of Fra Angelico No. 1 was purchased by the bank from Webb’s in 1984 for $2500. It is now up for auction with an estimate of $100,000 to $200,000. Painting by Philippe Clairmont Kidney chart was purchased in 1986 for $15,000. This
will be auctioned with an estimate of $200,000 to $400,000.
Painting by Gordon Walters from 1979 Makora has a pre-sale estimate between $600,000 and $850,000 while Fomison Fugitive, painted in the early 80s, is expected to sell for between $600,000 and $900,000. Milan Mrkusich’s Golden Center of Two Elements painting is expected to sell for between $180,000 and $320,000.
And strangely sitting in the contemporary mix are two 1889 paintings by Charles Blomfield, one of White Terraces and the other of Pink Terraces. Their pre-auction estimates are between $40,000 and $70,000.
• BNZ artwork featured in the September 18 auction will be on view at Webb’s in Mt Eden tonight between 6-8 p.m., and will remain on view daily from Thursday, September 8 through September 17 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends. . The auction will start the next day at 2 p.m.