Monday, October 01, 2012

Hunting in the abstract

The discovery in the US of a $50 Renoir (now valued at $85,000) in a Virginia flea market recently reminded us of the possibility of an NZ-related find for anyone travelling in the States. Back in mid-1963 American businessman E. J. Danziger purchased twenty abstract paintings by Colin McCahon from the IKON Gallery in Auckland. As McCahon’s exhibition that year consisted of landscapes (including the large Landscape theme and variations given by Creative NZ to Te Papa), the Danziger works were probably selected from stock. 

Danziger and his brother had been partners in the movie business producing over 70 B-grade thrillers (including So evil, so young, and the 1957 shocker The depraved – more here) in the 1950s and 1960s. By the time 1958 rolled around - as McCahon was painting his pivotal Northland panels - the Danzigers had shifted focus and taken over the Gordon Hotels group whose operations included the 406-room May Fair Hotel in London. It was to decorate rooms in this hotel that Danziger purchased the works by McCahon in 1963. A year after the purchase the Danzigers stepped out of the hotel business presumably leaving the 20 c.1962 abstract paintings by Colin McCahon in place. The hunt was on. 

Over the years the ‘missing’ Danziger McCahons became a bit of a legend. Every now and then there would be talk of this dealer or that combing their way through the files and travelling to the States to try and track the 20 down. Martin Browne, a dealer based in Sydney, talked with the 81-year old Danziger in 1990 and located eight of the 20. 

Then in 2006 another of the Danziger works turned up. The painting which certainly looks like it is from the Bellini Madonna series was made available on eBay with no reserve from a seller tagged quicksellit-westpalmbeachfl. A winning bid of $US4,500 was posted but the vendor refused to give up the work. The painting is not included in the Colin McCahon online catalogue although an image of it appeared on the eBay auction site at the time. 

By our account that leaves 11 works somewhere out there. OTY. 

Image: The painting put up on eBay as one of Colin McCahon’s Bellini Madonna series in 2006

CORRECTION 1 OCTOBER: It turns out that Renoir was stolen so not quite the bargain we'd bargained on