A fairly subdued start to the auction didn’t leave the audience with great hopes for the success of (Lot 14 ), Bill Hammond Cave Painting 5. However this diminutively sized painting was an exceptionally good work and the scale appealed to room and phone bidders and the work realised $70,000 (hammer) against a low estimate of $60,000.
It would have seemed as if the auction market had taken a real turn for the worse, if Tony Fomison's Mental Defective (Lot 17 ), didn’t fly through it’s estimate. This painting has the characteristic Fomison palette but harder lines and a chiaroscuro effect. It’s a mesmerising painting and large by Fomison standards. A bidding duel occurred on this lot with a couple of knockout bids placed to secure the work, finally selling for $110,000 against a low estimate of $80,000.
The highest price lot of the night was also the fastest seller. The absolutely stunning Colin McCahon, Kauri Trees, Titirangi (Lot 20 ), went from $210,000 to $352,000 in about 40 seconds and almost all in $5,000 rises. The audience could have almost hoped for a little more drama on such a strong picture, but a fast sale is a good sale and a great final result.
All the drama took place on (Lot 52 ), Evelyn Page, Still Life. Two bidders sitting directly in front of one another both bid strongly from $15,000 upwards until one of the bidders got pretty confused with the whole process and provided entertaining banter with both the other buyer and the auctioneer until pulling out at $39,000 after announcing to the room "of course I won’t pay $40,000, I only came to spend $30,000!".
This was a bright spot in an otherwise quiet room. Despite having some very good pictures, the bulk of the catalogue was not as strong as previous offerings and the results reflect it. It was encouraging to see two major Garth Tappers included in this sale and even though they didn’t sell, one got passed in at $81,000 to a room bidder which is still $44,000 higher than his current auction record.
Perhaps the auction houses could look at diversifying the offerings in the major art sales to encourage new bidders and fresh eyes to the auction room.