Tim and Sherrah Francis art auction – an unsurpassed MacDiarmid record

Twelve months on from Art and Object’s memorable Auckland auction of the Tim and Sherrah Francis’ vast art collection, the record personal prices achieved for two stunning early MacDiarmid oil paintings remains unprecedented.

There were four of Douglas’ paintings in the late couple’s diverse catalogue sales on 6th and 7th September 2016, each expected to fetch a few thousand dollars. But two of these works, Children in room at night 1946 and Christchurch March 1945 captured the imagination of buyers, with bidding rocketing up to $27,000 apiece.

Despite being painted six decades ago, both paintings look as if they were finished yesterday; their new owners are overjoyed with them for very different reasons.

Children in a room at night, oil on board 47.7x 36cm, has a mysterious sort of expectancy about it. They are in fact mother and daughter, with a very clear link to Douglas and New Zealand. More correctly titled Marjorie Mitchell London 1946, this painting lived for many years on his close friend Helen Hitchings’ walls in Wellington before being bought by the Francis’, dedicated art collectors and diplomats, in 1984. But the giving and gratitude associated with the painting extends back much further to Douglas’ university years in Christchurch during World War II.

Marjorie was an English girl living and working in Christchurch. She found herself pregnant and alone, until Jewish refugee friends of Douglas took her in and looked after her. Marjorie was a vivacious part of their social circle of European migrants and avant garde artists, musicians and poets until she returned to London with her little one after the war ended.

Douglas painted Marjorie several times. He was desperate to see the world, and sailed to England in 1946 as tutor to his landlady Blanche Harding’s son Buddy. Accommodation was impossible to find in bomb-razed London, but Marjorie returned the hospitality she received in New Zealand by giving them the top floor of her house for as long as they needed. The walls were badly cracked; the cold and yellow pea-soup London fog seeped in, food was scarce and rationed, furniture too expensive to buy, so they made do with the little they had and were thankful for a dryish roof over their heads.

The travel cases next to the little girl in the painting are Douglas and Blanche’s trunks, used as storage, seating, tables. Unfortunately, no one remembers the little girl’s name.

The painting was bought at the auction as a surprise birthday present, after the current owners kept coming back to it in the catalogue… “It is hard to attribute the appeal of Douglas’ painting to one dimension. We felt the painting had an air of mystery, serenity and simplicity. We wondered about the relationship between the woman and the young girl. We also found we would notice different things when we kept looking at the catalogue picture. My wife was overjoyed on her birthday to unwrap the painting! She had no idea that I had purchased it.”

Marjorie Mitchell London (1946) by Douglas MacDiarmid. Sold as Children in the room at night
Marjorie Mitchell London (1946) by Douglas MacDiarmid (sold as Children in room at night). Lark Family Collection, Wellington.

Its record price-raising companion, Christchurch March 1945, oil on board, 23×31.7cm is an urban industrial street scene unusual in New Zealand landscapes at the time. This painting spoke volumes to two brothers who recognised the building as being the very factory that existed at the bottom of the street they lived in as children. Acquiring a familiar memory of boyhood was a given.

Christchurch, March 1945 by Douglas MacDiarmid. Wells Family Collection, New Zealand. www.douglasmacdiarmid.com
Christchurch, March 1945 by Douglas MacDiarmid. Oil on board, 229 x 317mm. Wells Family Collection, New Zealand

The two other MacDiarmid paintings also found willing homes, for much more modest prices. An evocative street scene Bank of the Avon River, Christchurch, circa 1944, harking back to a cityscape now almost unrecognisable when Douglas was studying, doing military service, and enthusiastically painting with older members of The Group. This oil on board, 29.5×40.1cm sold realised $7000 at the auction.

Bank of the Avon River Christchurch (circa 1944) by Douglas MacDiarmid
Bank of the Avon River Christchurch (circa 1944) by Douglas MacDiarmid

And a stunning portrait of Indian businessman Akbar Tyabji, London 1949, oil on board 30.8 x 25cm sold for $6250. Commissioned shortly before Douglas came back to New Zealand for a year, his wealthy, well-connected subject who later became a diplomat wanted to appear as imperious as possible.

Akbar Tyabji London (1949) by Douglas MacDiarmid
Akbar Tyabji London (1949) by Douglas MacDiarmid

About the auction

Tim and Sherrah Francis Collection
6-7 September 2016
Art + Object

With total sales exceeding NZ$6.6 million, the Tim and Sherrah Francis Collection became the highest grossing art auction in New Zealand history. More than 300 collectors were on site to witness history in the making by Art + Object.

The top sale of the night was The Canoe Tainui (1969), a masterpiece by Colin McCahon which fetched NZ$1,621,620 and set a new record as the highest price achieved for an artwork at auction in New Zealand.

Auction highlights included two works by Douglas MacDiarmid:

Lot 36 Douglas MacDiarmid $27 027 *A new record price for the artist at auction.
Lot 38 Douglas MacDiarmid $27 027

Read more>>

« | »

Life and Times of Douglas MacDiarmid biography
Visit our shop to purchase

Subscribe for updates

Receive the wisdom of Douglas and other updates from the MacDiarmid Arts Trust.



Social Media:

© Copyright 2019 MacDiarmid Arts Trust on behalf of Douglas MacDiarmid – New Zealand painter. All rights reserved