Whiteley painting of a bird in a tree worth a fortune
A painting that relates to the tragic story of Sydney's most famous artist and his beautiful daughter will be auctioned next month and could fetch more than $1 million.
Arkie Whiteley travelled the world with her artist father Brett and her mother Wendy, growing up in New York's Chelsea Hotel and on the beaches of Fiji.
In 1984, after the family returned to Sydney, Brett Whiteley used the big fig tree outside their home in Lavender Bay as the model for his painting The Arrival - a glimpse in the Botanical Gardens. Measuring 106cm by 90.6cm, it shows the flight path of a bird before it settles on a branch.
The picture was barely dry when Sydney obstetrician and art collector Dr Peter Elliott bought it through Australian Galleries in Paddington.
Elliott and Whiteley remained friends until 1992 when the artist died alone of a drug overdose in a Thirroul motel room. He and Wendy were divorced by then.
Arkie rushed back from London. But Arkie fell ill and died of cancer in her Palm Beach home, aged 37, in 2001.
Two weeks before her death, Arkie married her boyfriend - Jim Elliott, son of the man who years earlier had bought the bird in a fig tree.
The Arrival - a glimpse in the Botanical Gardens hung for 30 years in Dr Elliott's Potts Point home. In 2015, the year after his death, Dr Elliott's collection was auctioned off and Paddington art dealer Denis Savill bought the Whiteley painting for $793,000.
Savill loaned the picture to the Art Gallery of NSW. Until a few days ago, the picture hung at the Brett Whiteley Studio in Surry Hills, which is managed by the AGNSW.
It's now at Smith and Singer (formerly Sotheby's Australia) in Woollahra, after Savill decided to sell it.
It will be auctioned on October 13, Savill's 80th birthday, and is estimated by Smith and Singer to fetch between $900,000 and $1.2 million.
Chairman Geoffrey Smith said the company had found that single-painting auctions, with none of the parties in the same room, worked well during COVID. The company sold Night Interior by wellknown Sydney artist Cressida Campbell for "around $500,000" during COVID, setting an auction price record for a living female Australian artist, Mr Smith said.
He said buyers were looking for "life-affirming" artworks.
"People don't necessarily want depressing, challenging works. People's homes are becoming their havens," Mr Smith said.
Denis Savill said the market for "blue chip" artworks was very strong, partly because the wealthy were not travelling and had cash to spare.
Savill said he was still buying paintings, including those by Arthur Streeton whose retrospective exhibition opens at the AGNSW on November 7.
Originally published as Painting linked to Whiteley's tragic daughter could fetch $1m