Australian art is different from many other art scenes in the “Western world.” It is certainly part of the conversation in terms of developed and highly industrialized, modern societies, but being so far removed, geographically anyway, from the rest of the planet, it can feel a bit disjointed.
Yet, that’s part of the Aussie charm and there’s a lot of opportunity there to have your own voice and make your mark as many Australian artists have definitely done.
Top Australian Art Sold in 2016
It doesn’t get much more Australian than that – the famous Sydney Harbor. The recognizable Opera House wasn’t there yet, but this depiction by Streeton gives you a blast from the past of the iconic landscape.
Williams painted a few of these abstract landscapes and they are celebrated all around the country. You’ll see a few other similar Williams’ landscapes that made the list.
Playing off of Alice in Wonderland vibes, this piece by Blackman features the recognizable characters playing chess instead of using a deck of cards or playing croquet as other representations of these characters have done.
The Sunrise, Japanese: Good Morning!, Brett Whiteley, 1988 – A$1,681,363
This Australian classic has been bought and sold time and time again and is known as an Aussie favorite among art lovers. Asian influences are extremely present in Australian culture being so close in proximity to the Asian continent.
Nolan is most famous for his series of paintings featuring the infamous Aussie outlaw Ned Kelly. This is one of them and shows Kelly on horseback. Nolan had an interesting life full of personal dramas and painted hundreds of Kelly portraits and landscapes. They are now seen as Australian gems.
One of the oldest artworks to sell for over $1 million is by Von Guerard from 1856. It features the gorgeous landscape of Hobart, Tasmania, the island off the southeastern coast of the Australian mainland. The area is definitely more “built-up” now, but it gives viewers a glimpse of this stunning area and how it looked over a century ago.
It’s undeniable that Australia boasts some of the best beaches in the world. Many are virtually untouched and the brisk Pacific Ocean is a refreshing respite from the glaring sun. This is one of many in Whiteley’s famous series of beach-goers rinsing off in the sand-side showers.
Top Australian Art Sold in 2017
Possibly the most famous of his entire Ned Kelly series, the aptly titled Ned Kelly – Outlaw is Nolan’s abstract and quite certainly satirical take on the infamous bush outlaw. The neutral colors are a beautiful depiction of the Aussie landscape and the square head returns again and again in the series. This portrait is an Australian treasure.
Unfortunately, although not completely unexpected, is the fact that this is the only painting by an Aboriginal Australian that has sold for over $1 million. Up until painfully recently, these native Australians have been excluded from white Aussie life and therefore unable to participate in many of the “elite” circles.
Aboriginal art is traditionally done using a series of colorful dots – often what you’d see on didgeridoos and boomerangs. As a people, they are still very connected to the Earth and it makes sense that Kngwarreye’s record-breaking piece is called Earth’s Creation.
It’s a stunning representation of nature’s colors and a true masterpiece in its ability to convey emotion.
Satirical as ever, Brack is back with another depiction of dreary post-war suburbia. This one almost makes you laugh out loud (or perhaps wince at the cringe-worthiness) in its bland colors, sharp figures, and the sheer boredom in the characters. Perhaps this is how some “prodigal sons” feel when eating dinner at home with his parents.
Most artists on this list have been here before, but with Tucker, that’s not the case, at least not within the last decade. This painting from the 40s is thought-provoking because of what was happening in the world at the time.
Tucker had just been discharged from the army by the time he started his Images of Modern Evil series and, without knowing it, advanced modern art in Australia during the 20th century. Still, this series was never extremely popular at the time but today, it’s seen as a vehicle for the themes that defined his career.
Along with its small population, Australia is also relatively new in the scheme of worldly participation. Of course, the native Australians called Aborigines have been on the continent for hundreds of years before European settlement.
But, according to this list, only one piece of Aboriginal art has ever sold for over $1 million in a modern art auction over the last decade. Interestingly, this Aboriginal was a woman, breaking two barriers in one.
Hopefully, over time and as the country grows in population, we’ll start to see more and more Australian artists being recognized internationally for their work, including the work of Aboriginal Australians.