SYDNEY, March 31 (Reuters) - Australia's most expensive painting, a Sidney Nolan "Ned Kelly" work, was given away on Wednesday only days after setting the nation's art record.
Less than a week later the previously anonymous buyer, the Gleeson O'Keefe Foundation, stepped forward and donated the painting to the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney.
"They've bought this really signature Nolan work for us, which we are absolutely thrilled about and it was A$5.4 million and it looks fantastic on our wall," said Clare Martin, the gallery's media manager.
Dubbed the missing Nolan, art market experts say the painting reached a staggering price because it was the only work in the Ned Kelly series that remained in private hands. The other 26 are at the Australian National Gallery in Canberra.
Sidney Nolan is considered Australia's most internationally acclaimed artist. Nolan died in 1992.
"First Class Marksman" depicts Kelly wearing a square metal helmet over his head, which he used as armour to protect himself from police, and pointing a rifle into the Australian bush.
"I think this sale certainly puts us on the world stage and indeed a record for Australian art," Litsa Veldekis, chief executive officer of Menzies Auctions in Sydney, told Reuters.
The previous record for a Sidney Nolan piece, titled "Death of Constable Scanlon", sold for A$1.3 million in 2000. The highest price for an Australian painting prior to Thursday's auction was in 2007, when Brett Whiteley's "The Olgas for Ernest Giles", sold for A$3.4 million.
The Gleeson O'Keefe Foundation was set up by surrealist painter James Gleeson, who died in 2008, and his longtime partner Frank O'Keefe to acquire and give to the Art Gallery of New South Wales works of lasting importance.
(Reporting by Pauline Askin; Editing by Alex Richardson)
GetRTR 3.00 -- MAR 31, 2010 14:13:05