$5m art sale raises eyebrows

A NEWCASTLE artist’s claim of a $5.2million sale, eclipsing greats Brett Whiteley and John Brack, have experts in disbelief.

Sharon Davson says the sale, which would be an Australian record for a living artist, is the culmination of a high-flying career that involves prominent figures ranging from Sir Cliff Richard, to Neil Diamond, Bon Jovi and former federal MP Pat Farmer.

The 58-year-old said her painting, Points of View, sold to a mystery New Zealand company on July 14 for $5.2million, achieving the world’s third-highest price for a living female painter.

Ms Davson said she was initially commissioned to paint the piece for a Central Coast resort in 1985 for $12,000 and it had changed hands numerous times since.

But the tale surrounding the record-breaking sale has many in the art world scratching their heads.

It follows claims made last year by Ms Davson that another of her paintings, The Ark of Salvation, sold for $1.3million.

Copyright Agency Limited, appointed by the Australian government to record art sales and manage the resale royalties scheme, has no record of either sale. The agency’s visual artist manager, Tristian Chant, confirmed it would be investigating.

“We have not had either sale reported to us as yet, but we will be contacting the parties involved to make sure they are aware of their obligations under the scheme,” he said.

Australian fine art consultant and valuer David Hulme led a chorus of experts this week describing the news as “unbelievable”.

“I am flabbergasted that somebody on their own, without commercial gallery representation, could pull off such an amazing deal to sell something that in the auction room would not have much value,” Mr Hulme said.

Merryn Schriever of leading fine art auction house Deutscher and Hackett said Ms Davson did not have a secondary market through auction houses and described news of the sale as “extraordinary”.

Australian Art Sales Digest, which compiles market research dating back to 1969, says Ms Davson has never sold anything at auction.

Two paintings, The Butterfly and The Game, went to auction in Sydney on July 24, 1990, with an expected sale price of between $250 and $350, but neither sold.

The digest states: “There are no galleries listed that usually stock work by and/or represent this artist.”

A spokesman for the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory confirmed a Davson painting, Reflections, which has been in storage for at least 12 years, was donated in 1989 and valued at $18,000 by Sotheby’s at the time.

When questioned about her sales claims, Ms Davson said she had not taken the “standard career path of a regular Australian artist”.

She said individuals and superannuation funds purchased her art as “investments”.

“Just because I don’t exhibit in commercial galleries or sell at auction doesn’t mean people don’t value my international reputation,” she said.

“Over 300 significant celebrities have been part of projects with me, that is how I have done it ... really early works by me are now sought after internationally.”

She also directed the Newcastle Herald to a Queensland lawyer representing the $5.2million buyer.

When contacted by the Herald, the lawyer provided a deed of ratification setting out the conditions of sale, but said he did not know the identity of the vendor as it was “blacked out” in documents he sighted. He said he had not met Ms Davson, but he had known the buyer for about a year and described him as an “asset broker”.

A search for the New Zealand company reportedly behind the purchase, Macquarie Trustee NZ Ltd, revealed it was incorporated on July 26, 12 days after the $5.2million sale.

The lawyer said there had been a miscommunication with his client, which meant the company had not been properly established before the sale, but “everything was above board now”.

Ms Davson says she graduated from Brisbane’s Queensland College of Art in the 1970s.

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