Bidders crash system, splash $10.5m on NAB art collection

Gabriella Coslovich, Australian Financial Review, 24 February 2022

Not even a prolonged technical glitch could dampen the enthusiasm of buyers as they vied for a share of the National Australia Bank's historic art collection on Tuesday night in the first of a series of auctions.

The rush of online bidders caused the Invaluable bidding platform to crash, stalling the sale at Deutscher and Hackett in Melbourne for 10 minutes, a seeming eternity in the trade.

"We couldn't have had a worse start,” said Deutscher and Hackett's executive director, Melbourne, Chris Deutscher, after the sale.

And there could not have been a better finish. The sale of the highlights of the NAB collection was a resounding success, flying more than $2 million above the high estimate to pull in $8.5 million, or $10.5 million with buyers' fees included. Eight auction records were set for William Delafield Cook, Robert Juniper, Lesley Dumbrell, Inge King, Martin Sharp, Ivan Durrant, Ken Whisson and George Haynes.

The sensation of the night was Martin Sharp’s piercing portrait of Vincent van Gogh, Vincent, from 1970, which borrows heavily from van Gogh's own self-portrait. Bidding for the painting began hours before the auction started, with 19 bidders pushing the work's price to $160,000, eight times its high estimate, by the afternoon.

When the painting finally came up for auction just after 9pm, the bidding set off at $160,000 to astonished laughter from collectors in the room at Deutscher and Hackett's South Yarra gallery. There were no further bids and Vincent sold to an internet buyer for $160,000 (hammer price). The late artist's previous high was $37,000 (hammer), in 2014. (Deutscher and Hackett applies a 25 percent buyer's fee, including GST, on top of the hammer price.)

The sale signalled a new breed of online buyer, the type that has also sent British street artist Banksy rocketing at auction. Sharp has a similar sort of street credibility.

He was a key figure in Sydney's avant garde, a co-founder of the 1960s counterculture Oz magazine, designer of psychedelic posters of Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Donovan, record covers for Cream, and costumes and sets for the Nimrod Theatre.

The night's most expensive works were those by well established artists, topped by Jeffrey Smart’s The Footbridge, 1975, which rose $200,000 above its high estimate to sell for $800,000 (hammer) to a bidder in the room. The Footbridge is signature a brightly melancholy painting of a lone woman in yellow standing on a turquoise pedestrian overpass, umbrella open against a leaden sky.

Arthur Streeton's traditional landscape, Blue Vista from the Sundial, 1920, of Victoria's Grampians mountain range sold for $750,000 (hammer), against a high estimate of $500,000.