Beds, Herts & Bucks

'Suspicious bidding' halts Cambridge artwork sale

Porth Leven by Bertha Florence James Image copyright Hertfordshire County Council
Image caption Porth Leven by Bertha Florence James sold for £600 and is not part of the investigation

A number of paintings being sold in an auction have been put on hold after "suspicious behaviour" by an online bidder.

Cambridge auction house, Cheffins, said a "full investigation" is under way following the sale on 25 April.

Some of the work which may have to be sold for a second time includes pieces owned by Hertfordshire County Council.

The council said it is "assured the issue will be resolved."

Martin Millard, director of Cheffins, said: "The auction technology group is conducting a full investigation into suspicious bidding behaviour on the part of one online bidder during the Cheffins sale.

"Investigations are on-going" he said and no results will be published, until "further clarity".

As reported by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, 82 drawings, paintings and prints from Hertfordshire County Council were for sale, with the majority being sold without suspicion.

They included Harbour Wall by Charles Bartlett which went for £400 and John Cole's oil on canvas Blue South selling for £650.

Image copyright Hertfordshire County Council
Image caption Anne Redpath's Blue Plate was sold for £31,000 in March

In March Hertfordshire County Council made more than £440,000 from the sale of 152 pieces of art, including works by John Tunnard, and Barbara Hepworth.

The council began to acquire the paintings in 1949 as part of the School Loan Collection, an initiative where schools could borrow art to give pupils access to contemporary works.

The service was stopped in 2017, at which point the authority had 1,828 works valued at £26.2m.

The Conservative-run council said it wanted to get rid of 90% of the collection because it was at risk of deterioration and there was a lack of resources to manage the artwork properly.

A spokesman for the council said it was "made aware that an auction was compromised".

"We are assured that this issue will be resolved, allowing for the sale of the remaining artworks in the next sale on 23 May."

Image copyright Hertfordshire County Council
Image caption John Tunnard's Brandis painting was sold in March for £37,000

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