On the heels of McBride v Christie’s Australia, came another auction dispute from Australia, this one involving the children of renowned painter John Olsen and Sotheby’s Australia. Sotheby’s had listed for auction an Olsen work entitled Mother, which had been painted in 1964 for the painter’s second wife, marking the birth of their daughter. The children, now executors of their mother’s estate, claimed the painting should have gone to them following her death in 2011. It appeared the painting had gone missing during a trip to England in the mid-60s. Even the elderly Olsen himself expressed outrage that such a personal work could end up being sent to auction by an unknown third party.
The children filed a suit against Sotheby’s. The auction house, abiding by a confidentiality agreement, refused to disclose the name of the consignor. The judge did not have kind words for this sort of secretive auction practice, and made reference to the problem of auction forgeries as evidenced by the so-called Albert Tucker sold in the McBride case.
However, the truth in the Olsen matter eventually came out. Apparently, the painter had given the painting to a friend in or around 1967, in exchange for the extended use of that friend’s house in Spain. Olsen, who is now 87, had seemingly forgotten the episode.
As a result, the action by the children was discontinued. Sotheby’s, despite its recalcitrant attitude throughout, was able to receive a costs order against the children as a result of the discontinuance.