By Terry Ingram, on 18-Nov-2012

The overflowing crowd at auction by Mossgreen of the estate of Leslie Walford at the Tim Olsen Gallery on November 18 kissed goodbye to the minimalism which had displaced the life's work of the best known doyens of modern Sydney decorating.  Some of those cold clean empty interiors decorators created in the 1990s will now be lightened by bits of the colourful tat for which Walford, who was much lauded for his curtains for Elizabeth Bay House, was celebrated.

A large crowd which packed inside the upstairs room of the gallery embraced the colourful clutter and eclecticism, spiked with a touch of quirkiness, that was a distinctive aspect of Walford's decorating style.

The crowd was not even half the story. The auctioneer, Paul Sumner, said there were three or four absentee bidders on nearly every lot. This represented the biggest concentration of absentee buyers he had ever had at any sale he had conducted in his long career of auctioneering.

If they had come along he would have been in serious strife although the crowd appeared to accept their lot and wait in a well behaved fashion for the often modest treasures that had caught their eye. .

Sumner attributed the result, $541,429 including premium against low estimates of $290,780 EBP; to the attraction offered by single owner sales.

That it was the estate of Mr Walford, whose identity over many years as a decorator to old Sydney eastern suburbs and North Shore money was well established, added greatly to it as he had a  big following.

Operating out of a shop in Sydney's Double Bay and only briefly on the other side of the Harbour Bridge, Walford also wrote about celebrity Sydney years before it became compulsive publishing.

Some of the auction clients almost certainly were named in his outrageous column in the Sun Herald.

But the offering included pieces that came from other Sydney bastions of the prevailing taste of the period such David Jones' Art Gallery in the “PM” period – prior to minimalism. In these turgid times for a few hundred dollars they offered buyers light and often comic to otherwise straight-laced white and black interiors.

Some of the credit for the result goes to Mossgreen Auctions' decorator David Retallick, one of the auction house's Melbourne team who has been in the decorator industry for many years and went-to-town on the collection's presentation for the viewing in the Queen Street rooms of Sydney antique dealer Ros Palmer.

The offering was also mostly free of the brown furniture that had blighted so many other sales and been so popular in the 1980s. There were lots of smalls, tchotchkes that people are drawn to when Christmas is approaching.

Indeed some of the lots could easily have been hung on a Xmas tree. They included some of the kinds of objects Prince Charles might use, such as a silver plated spoon warmer in the form of a mythical fish, sold for $366 against the estimate of $60 - $80.

The catalogue photography was also a plus. Objects were photographed in situ, not individually, showing what could be done with them.

While the sale was mercifully free of the common brown furniture of the Victorian period, the bane of the present day antique market, more imaginatively designed furniture from other periods in exotic woods or in the French style found buyers.

Generally the furniture did not fly and its limited presence certainly helped the sale's overall result. A pair of signed Louis XV carved walnut fauteuils even set the sale's high at $25,800 against an estimate of $12,000 to $18,000.

A laburnum oyster-veneered chest of drawers partly made in the 17th century sold for $6100 against estimates of $3000 to $5000. A pair of blackamoors also fired when they fell for $23,180 against $5000 to $8000. A Japanese six-fold screen ex David Jones Fine Art failed to sell at $10,000 to $15,000.

The one other area of occasional hesitation, paintings, also threw up some heady prices as when an Ian Bent Large Hook in the manner of Geoffrey Smart sold for a possible auction record of $12,100 ($1500 to $2500). Gunther Christmann's Voilet Hart sold for $7320 against $3000 to $5000 but it was a large piece of luscious colour for over the mantel piece

Art dealers Ros Oxley, Ursula Sullivan and (partially) Tim McCormick turned up but it is possible their interests were outside as well as in the art. McCormick admitted afterwards to have bought a chair for a desk.

The prices on the hundred dollar lots were frequently three or four times the estimates which admittedly were low, but priced so according to their special limited appeal.

The curiosities included a 19th century Japanese Kutani porcelain model of a boat made (lot 10) $3680 against $600 to $800.

A continental boating scene made $6710, less than half what Colin Davies remembered it having been bought for at Shapiro's in Sydney in very recent times.

Some bidding numbers were repeated, and while this could have been the trade, it was also postulated to be private buyers in a decorative mode.

Barely a dozen of the 381 lots went unsold and given the Internet was seldom successful it appears few lots went to the trade, the exceptions including some Indian art. The overseas trade tends to bid that way.

Before heading off to Sri Lanka where he has a holiday home, Colin Davies, Walford's partner said he was delighted with the result.




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About The Author

Terry Ingram inaugurated the weekly Saleroom column for the Australian Financial Review in 1969 and continued writing it for nearly 40 years, contributing over 7,000 articles. His scoops include the Whitlam Government's purchase of Blue Poles in 1973 and repeated fake scandals (from contemporary art to antique silver) and auction finds. He has closely followed the international art, collectors and antique markets to this day. Terry has also written two books on the subjects