1 September 2004

Collectables: Carbine upstages auction heavyweights

Sales of racehorse art often ride on the animal rather than the artist, as the auction of a portrait of the great Carbine attests.

Carbine, the 1890 Melbourne Cup winner and the greatest racehorse to grace the ­Australian turf before Phar Lap, made a brief return to the spotlight last week – as Lot 62 at Sotheby’s Sydney sale of fine Australian art.

The handsome, if flattering, portrait of “Old Jack” was painted by Frederick ­William Woodhouse snr in 1891, the year Carbine retired from racing and began an influential stud career. The work stood out like a beacon in a catalogue clogged with the usual quality saleroom fare of Olsens, Boyds, Blackmans, Smarts and Co.

After a brief bidding war, the painting was knocked down for $34,000 against an upper saleroom estimate of $20,000 to horse breeder Grahame Mapp, owner of Hobartville Stud near Richmond, NSW, reputedly Australia’s oldest thoroughbred stud. With buyer’s premium and GST, the price tag was $41,095, the second-highest price for a Woodhouse, according to Australian Art Sales Digest, which also notes the Englishman arrived in Australia in 1857 and painted every winner of the Melbourne Cup from 1861 to 1890.

Strangely, Sotheby’s catalogue notes talk exclusively of Carbine’s superlative track and stud record, making no mention of Woodhouse, even though he is among Australia’s most highly regarded “equine portraitists”.

“That is typical with this category,” says Clare Smith, specialist in sporting art at Christie’s, New York. “With themed sales like these, interest lies partly in the artist and partly in the subject matter. Many works in this category are bought by clients who have a personal interest in racehorses, whether owning or breeding or even gambling.”

Mapp is a case in point: he bought the painting for the horse, not the artist. “The money didn’t matter; I just wanted it. Bravo, which narrowly beat ­Carbine in the 1891 Melbourne Cup, was bred at Hobartville. I ­normally never go to auctions but a friend brought this work to my attention and I had to make a quick decision. I actually arrived halfway through the ­bidding and decided to take a punt.”

Mapp plans to find a permanent home for the work in Hobartville’s convict-built, ­Francis Greenway-designed homestead. “It will stay here forever,” he told The Bulletin.

If he ever changes his mind and decides to sell, Mapp would be well advised to offer the work in London, where sporting art aficionados would appreciate the work for both Carbine, as the sire of three English Derby winners, and for Woodhouse, who studied under John Frederick Herring, one of sporting art’s most sought-after artists.

“Themed sales are a successful way of marketing certain works outside the traditional classification by period or style,” says Smith, who has put together a 138-lot sale of works depicting noble steeds, heroic scenes of hunting, and often bizarre canine subjects for Christie’s December 5 sale of sporting art in New York.

Mapp also happens to be the breeder of Toulouse Lautrec, winner of the Carbine Club Stakes at Randwick at Easter.

First published in The Bulletin

1 comment:

  1. hi there i have a carbine lithio colour reg print if anyone interested.