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Australian Art

We can trace the richness and diversity of Australian art to the country’s storied past.
Before Great Britain claimed the eastern half of Australia in 1770, Aboriginal people had lived on the continent for thousands of years. In 1901, the colonies united to establish the Commonwealth of Australia, one of the world’s wealthiest nations. 

As a result of this history of invasion and contact between the Aboriginal people and Europeans (particularly the British), there are obvious differences in the choice of subject matter, treatments, and styles used in making Australian art.

Non-Aboriginal, European-style Australian art

Landscapes are one of the oldest favourite recurring subjects of many Australian artists and continue to be referenced by artists throughout Australian art history.

Notable Australian artists include Thomas Watling (1700s), Joseph Lycett and John Glover (19th century), who were landscape painters. In the 1800s, Australian landscape painters adopted German Romantic styles into their work. Tom Roberts’ Heidelberg School produced miniature impressionist landscapes on cigar covers.

Landscape paintings depicting Aboriginal people are comparable to Native American landscape paintings. Early artworks contain a heroic savage motif, whereas later images romanticise the vanishing civilisation.

Beginning in 1939, when the Melbourne Herald arranged a show of 200 paintings from France and Britain, the European avant-garde art movement profoundly influenced Australian painters. Following this, artworks displaying surrealism, expressionism, and native folk styles grew in popularity. In Sydney, the Antipodean Group, which fiercely defended the concept of figurative art as an abstraction, gained a substantial following.

In 1954, Australia had its first exhibit at the Venice Biennale, while colour field painting arrived in the 1960s. In Australia, the ‘landscape’ remains a major theme for all European-style artistic forms. Today, contemporary Australian art is usually done in the postmodern style, which is highly popular around the world. You can find rich collections of modern Australian art at auction houses like OzBid that have built a reputation for being trustworthy and reliable original art sources.

Australian Aboriginal art

With a history extending back 80,000 years, Australian Aboriginal art is one of the world’s oldest surviving art forms. Since there was no written language during prehistoric times, what archaeologists unearthed was rock art made with ochres, a naturally occurring pigment in clay earth. These rock paintings conveyed narratives through the use of symbols and icons. The rock art discoveries, together with the rise of contemporary Aboriginal art, have paved the way for the resurgence of the art form and growing profound respect and understanding for Aboriginal culture.

Aboriginal art evokes strong emotions in collectors because each piece tells a raw, compelling tale. Aside from paintings and string art, rock art and engravings comprise these diverse, decorative Aboriginal works. Like their European-influenced counterparts, Aboriginal art pieces perform very well in Australian art auctions.

Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri’s ‘Warlugulong’ (1977) is a good example — it is considered the most expensive indigenous artwork ever sold and was acquired by the National Gallery of Australia for $2.4 million in 2007.

While authentic forms of Aboriginal art have been difficult to come by because of the distance between the rural locations of Aboriginal artists and their communities — the beauty and significance of their works continue to spark demand.

Buy your favourite piece at OzBid’s Australian art auctions

Whether you’re interested in European-style paintings or indigenous Aboriginal works, you can buy Australian art at auctions. If you’re not interested in attending live, in-person auctions, you can protect your privacy by bidding at Australian art auctions online that are conducted by OzBid — Australia’s premier live online auction house. Do you have questions or comments about the Australian art auctions at OzBid? Get in touch with our team today. We’ll be happy to assist you in your quest to acquire authentic, one-of-a-kind Australian artworks.

FAQs

What are the advantages of buying Australian art at an online auction?

There are many advantages of buying Australian art at auctions online, including:

  • Transparent pricing — The auction house gives every lot a price estimate. In-house specialists calculate these estimates by looking at the artist’s previous auction results, the artwork’s condition and significance, and macroeconomic trends. You can sort lots by their estimated value before bidding begins, so you can focus exclusively on paintings that meet your budget.
  • Open data on market comparables — Gallery sales results are rarely published publicly. However, previous auction results (in-person and online) are usually available to the public, so you can use that information to guide your bidding decisions and ensure you stay within market value.
  • Timeliness and simplicity — Auctions are simple as the artwork is awarded to the highest bidder.
  • Fast and safe transactions — Online auction sales are speedy yet safe selling venues, so they’re a good place to start if you want to buy Australian artworks.
  • In-house specialist assistance — Reputable online auction houses like OzBid have dedicated teams of experts. These people are in charge of evaluating the art offered in their sales, so you have assurance regarding the authenticity of every item they sell.

If you’re bidding for Aboriginal or contemporary Australian art through OzBid, you may reach out to one of our specialists to get individualised advice and support.

Is the Australian art sold at auctions authentic?

A Certificate of Authenticity is included with most artworks auctioned off at OzBid. The lot description in the catalogue will contain details (provenance, exhibition history, condition, etc.) about each piece. The purchaser receives all certificates, photographs, and paperwork the vendor provides.

We are devoted to ensuring that all the artworks we offer are authentic — whether we source them from respected galleries, artists, or private owners. All artworks sold at OzBid auctions are guaranteed to be authentic. We also attend to any questions concerning an artwork’s legitimacy seriously and quickly.

Is it cheaper to buy Australian art through an auction?

Buying at an auction can be more cost-effective for a collector than purchasing artwork through a gallery. In the industry, it is well known that the three Ds — death, debt, and divorce — are tragic situations that sometimes lead to a consignment. This is why buyers expect better deals in auctions than through a gallery sale. At OzBid, for example, the pieces we auction off are sourced primarily from well-known galleries, art dealers, private vendors, and the featured artists directly.

Will the Australian artwork I buy become more valuable in the future?

Art evaluation is a complex process impacted by numerous market elements and trends. When evaluating an art piece for investment, it’s crucial to check the following:

  • Official authentication (including the certification and other related documents)
  • Name of the artist and current value of the art
  • Condition of the artwork (note that any modifications to the artwork can quickly reduce the price)
  • Provenance and current status of the artwork
  • Subject matter or topic of the artwork
  • Art market trends

When it comes to modern art, market demand may be the most important factor in determining the value of an artwork. When the market goes crazy for an artist, their prices will skyrocket, whereas constants tend to be less volatile. Many powerful players, from the most well-known dealers to the art superstars themselves, influence the market.

New collectors interested in learning how to value art should keep an eye on prices in reputable auction houses, at art fairs, and in the market in general. This will enable them to keep their finger on the market’s pulse and, as a result, perform better during auctions.

Remember that while the art market is dynamic and largely arbitrary, it is still governed by more or less measurable determinants. Extracting those important bits and turning them into useful information to value artwork is a skill that only an experienced collector and expert appraiser can master.

How much should I bid in an online auction?

The amount you bid in an online auction is entirely up to you. The simplest approach is to always mention your top bid, which is the amount you’d bid if you were at an auction in person. The bid you submit is similar to an absentee bid in a live auction. The software keeps your bid confidential and bids on your behalf against rival bids in the publicised increments up to the maximum amount you are willing to bid.

Can I be an absentee bidder?

Yes, of course. If you cannot live bid online from your computer, phone, or tablet, you can place an absentee bid before the start of a live auction or at any time until the end of a timed sale. This means you can join from anywhere in the world and buy the pieces you want, including modern Australian art, at an online auction.

An absentee bid is one in which you leave your maximum bid online, and the system bids progressively on your behalf against all other bidders. You will win the item you want if your absentee bid outbids all other bidders! You will be notified via email if your maximum bid is outbid during a timed sale or before a live auction begins, giving you the option to increase your maximum bid.

Is it possible to view items that are being sold before the auction takes place?

All of the pieces on offer will be listed in the OzBid online catalogue so that you can view them and read the details before submitting your bids. Each lot will include several photos (overall and close-up pictures) to help you get a fair idea of how each item looks.

Formal viewings are not available for our online auctions. However, if you live in Sydney, Australia, it’s possible to set up a time for you to privately examine your favourite artworks prior to the auction day at our Sydney headquarters. If you’re interested in setting this up, please let us know via email. You may also reach out to us through email if you are situated outside of Sydney and would like to get extra photographs or information on your favourite piece.

Which is more expensive: European-style or Aboriginal Australian art?

There is no simple or easy way to valuate Australian art — whether it be European-style or Aboriginal. This is because several factors, including authenticity, artist, subject matter and artwork condition, can influence the value of an artwork.

Consider, for example, prolific Australian painter Brett Whiteley’s work ‘The Olgas for Ernest Giles’ (1985), which sold for $2.4 million in a Sydney auction in June 2007. Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri’s ‘Warlugulong’ was acquired at the same price in a July 2007 auction in Melbourne. The subject matters of these artworks are quite different, and the artists painted using different perspectives. They also have very distinct styles. However, the value of their specific paintings within the same year happened to be similar.

When you acquire several artworks, you will find that some pieces appreciate in value while others do not. The art market is fickle, and what’s obscure now may become an in-demand rarity in the future — or it may remain in obscurity forever, privately appreciated by you. What matters in the art buying process is the buyer’s or collector’s feelings towards the art piece they are considering. Of course, when you view art as an investment, you would want to have some reassurance that it will cost more in the future.

However, whatever artwork you select should resonate with you at some level — it can be emotional, spiritual, or something else. At the very least, the items you buy should give you joy or pleasure, even when you have resale in mind for the future.