Australian auction house Deutscher and Hackett will be hoping for a new auction record for colonial Australian Aboriginal artist Tommy McRae (1830 – 1901) when they auction two rare and highly significant pen and ink drawings by the artist during their 4th April Important Aboriginal + Oceanic Art Auction sale.
The most significant of the two works is titled Buckley’s Escape (1890’s) and depicts various scenes from the legendary story of convict William Buckley who escaped from the sailing vessel Calcutta when it anchored at Port Philip. Buckley, known as the ‘Wild White Man’, was able to elude capture for three decades by befriending a group of local Aborigines and becoming part of their community.
According to the auction catalogue, “An account of his first meeting with local people describes how Buckley, after struggling for a time in the bush without food or water, came across a native grave. Commandeering a spear that was protruding from the grave site to use as a walking stick, Buckley soon encountered local people, who believed him to be the re-incarnation of the owner of the spear and readily accepted him into their community. Buckley subsequently learnt the language and customs, actively participating in aboriginal life for three decades before giving himself up to a party of European surveyors in 1835.”
The previous auction record for a work by McRae was achieved on the 7th of June 2011 when Sotheby’s Australia sold the artist’s Ceremony (1900) AUS$72,000 IBP against an estimate of AUS$40,000 -$60,000. Of a similar scale and arguably of greater importance, the historically important and fresh to market Buckley’s Escape – estimated to sell for between AUD$60,000 and AUD$80,000 - is worth every cent of the high estimate and more.
An extremely appealing work reminiscent of a cartoon strip, Buckley’s Escape is the first work by McRae detailing the William Buckley story to appear at auction and is even more significant because it depicts multiple episodes from the Buckley story.
Adding further value to this work is the excellent provenance which begins with the purchase of the work directly from the artist in the 1890’s by Mr. John Guthrie-Gray, a Scottish émigré and landholder in the Corowa district, and continues through the family by descent to the current owner – the great grandson of Mr. John Guthrie-Gray.
Tommy McRae was born about 1830, south of the Murray River, near the junction with the Goulburn River, in territory belonging to the Kwatkwat people. The only known Aboriginal artist to have taken up pen and ink drawing, McRae was described as ‘an astute financier’ and his drawings, produced to commission and bought by travellers in his region, provided an income for him and his family.
See details of Buckley's Escape here:
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