Zsa Zsa of art world

By James Cockington | The Sydney Morning Herald | Money | Wednesday 17 February 2015

Painter Judy Cassab left an "indelible mark on the story of Australian art", writes James Cockington.

Cassab washing a painting with a hose in 1955

10 December 1962. "Harold Holt asks me why I don't paint from sketches, like Dobell. `Because my temperament is different,' I said. `I need the electric contact of the person.'

He replied, `I'd love to have an electric contact with you'."

This excerpt from the Judy Cassab Diaries, published in 1995 by Random House Australia, shows why Cassab was one of Australia's most successful portrait painters. She had a certain Zsa Zsa charm that made celebrities want to be painted by her.

Judy Cassab AO CBE died last November at the age of 95. Born in Vienna of Hungarian parents, she emigrated to Australia in 1951 after surviving the Holocaust. Once established here, she had more than 50 solo exhibitions, winning the Archibald Prize twice, in 1960 and 1967. She had a strong connection with the Art Gallery of NSW, serving as a trustee from 1980 to 1988. The gallery now has more than 60 examples of her work, including both Archibald-winning portraits.

"She has left an indelible mark on the story of Australian art and on this gallery," writes curator Anne Ryan in the gallery's current Look magazine, which makes you wonder why her work appears to be undervalued on the secondary market. Given the grim reality that work by dead artists sells better than that of living ones, a selling exhibition next week of art work from her studio should be an interesting barometer.
Portrait of art curator Anna Waldmann, 1982

The sale by Shapiro Auctioneers in Sydney features 47 paintings and sketches, on display from February 24 to March 6. A second sale of Cassab's personal collection of work by other artists will be held on May 11. Artists featured include Sidney Nolan, Charles Blackman, Marc Chagall, Elwyn Lynn, Nora Heysen and George Molnar. The catalogue for both sales is on the auctioneer's website.

Prices for her work range from $3000 to $30,000. A typical mid-range painting is the 1982 portrait of art curator Anna Waldmann​, valued at $12,000. Other portraits are of Margaret Fink, Colin Lanceley​, Robert Juniper and Bryan Seidel. A collection of about 30 Cassabs featured at Shapiro's Claire Dan Estate sale in 2013, with every piece selling.

There is definitely a market for her work, Andrew Shapiro says. Prices for Cassab paintings have slowly increased, with a revival of interest in her abstracts from the 1950s. Several of these are in next week's sale.

Cassab painted queens, princesses and prima donnas during her career. Titled subjects included Queen Sirikit​ of Thailand (1962), the Maharani of Jaipur (1961), Princess Alexandra (1961), Princess Marina (1961), Dame Joan Sutherland (1967), Sir Robert Helpmann​ (1975) and Sir Frank Packer (1974). In 1972, she painted John Laws, the reigning king of talkback, depicting him as a decadent-looking dandy.

Artworks from The Estate of Judy CAssab

Exhibition | Wednesday 24 Feb - Sunday 6 Mar 2016 11am - 5pm

Opening Preview | Wednesday 24 Feb 5.30pm - 8pm

Enquiries | (02) 9326 1588 or info@shapiro.com.au

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