Imagine spending $110,000 on a painting. We talk to Haus hotelier Jason Duffield about being the proud new owner of a watercolour by Sir Hans Heysen.
The recent record-breaking sale of a Sir Hans Heysen watercolour painting to Hahndorf hoteliers The Duffield Family has already made headlines.
The painting – The Camp at Wonoka Creek – is thought to be one of Heysen’s largest watercolours and was found in a private collection in Germany by an art dealer. From there, it was returned to Heysen’s home state of South Australia for sale at Elder Fine Art.
And that’s where Jason Duffield comes in.
I was thinking ‘shit, what would mum think?!’
“It all started when I was aimlessly scrolling through Facebook and came across an article about a missing Heysen masterpiece… lost for 70 years, found in a deceased estate in Stuttgart in Germany, and sent back to Australia – South Australia in particular – as the Heysen market is quite strong here,” he says.
“Whoever thought of that idea had their head screwed on.”
His dad, Noel, used to live down the road from Sir Heysen and would often see him strolling towards the Main Street of Hahndorf, so Jason knew this would pique his interest – so he sent his parents the link.
“He could see what I saw in possibly securing it for not only Hahndorf, but keeping it in South Australia. Olivia, my sister and business partner, didn’t blink an eye when I told her of the plan.”
The Duffields registered their interest, but not before making a few calls around town.
“I made a few calls to people I thought may be interested in buying it, including the Heysen Trust, because otherwise we would have backed out. But it was free game from around the [Adelaide] Hills area, we just didn’t know who else was as keen.”
Estimated to sell for somewhere between $60,000 and $80,000, the Duffield family agreed $80,000 was their limit.
Little did they know competition would be high on the day.
“I can still hear it: ‘Lot 15’ the auctioneer boomed,” Jason says.
“‘One of Hans Heysen’s finest watercolours, the lost masterpiece The Camp at Wonoka Creek.’ He waxed and waned about the piece, then opened the bidding at a modest $55,000. I started getting the elbow in the ribs from dad, then after a few bids, another elbow, but I started our run at $65,000.
“Several agents were taking bids over the phones and hands were still pointing skyward when it quickly hit $70,000. The old fox Jack Absalom [OAM, South Australian artist and gallery owner] blew a few away with a bid of $5,000 after previously going up in amounts of $500, all the way to $80,000.
“I said to my father, if Jack bids again, we’re out. And bid again he did.”
Jason felt defeated, that is until his father stuck another elbow in his ribs and whispered, “Go to $90,000 – be the best investment you’ll ever make.”
Up his hand went with $81,000.
“The bidding between us went higher and higher, hitting ninety in a matter of seconds, and I remember thinking ‘That’s it, we’re definitely out’.”
Jason told his dad that it was all over, but his words fell on deaf ears – Noel grabbed the ticket from him and stuck his hand in the air.
“I was thinking ‘shit, what would Mum think?!’”
Before long, the auctioneer called final bids before smacking the gavel and booming “SOLD” across the room.
They’d won the auction.
For $110,000, the magnificent painting of SA’s Flinders Ranges was theirs. It was a record-breaking figure that stunned us all.
TV cameras followed them out, and Jason announced the painting would be available for the public to see at The Haus restaurant in Hahndorf.
“We’ve had to construct a special museum glass cabinet for it to hang in the restaurant, and of course beef up our security systems, but we’re looking at an opening sometime in August.
“The outpouring of well wishes has humbled us, and we are just proud to be in a position where we were able to secure it for SA, and for Hahndorf, which has been very good to our family over the past 45 years.”
What would you spend $110,000 on? Let us know in the comments, below.