Artist Jack Vettriano fails to seduce buyers

THE price is now not right. Seven out of ten paintings by the Fife artist Jack Vettriano put up for sale by a leading auction house last week failed to find a buyer.

•Not so all right Jack: Model Reclining (1) and The Longing (3) sold for less than their listed prices, Game On (2) fetched 49,250, while Study For Heaven And Hell – The Sweetest Choice (4) did not find a buyer

One, a sultry portrait of a woman dangling a choice of sexy underwear, did not sell despite carrying an estimated price of about half what it fetched at auction in 2004.

Another work, Model Reclining, sold for 37,500, a healthy figure for most artists. But that was less than half the price listed for the painting on the website of Vettriano's former London dealer. A third, The Longing, sold for less than its 20,000 estimate.

Art experts said the value of Vettriano's works – his Singing Butler sold for more than 744,000 – now needed to be reassessed, suggesting collectors who bought his paintings as investments could be seriously out of pocket if they put their purchases back on the open market.

At the same sale last Thursday, nearly 3 million worth of art changed hands in Sotheby's spring auctions of Scottish pictures. Despite the failure of the Vettrianos to sell en masse, the auctioneer proudly reported record prices for two Scottish Colourists, SJ Peploe and FCB Cadell, with paintings that sold for 623,650 and 553,250.

The sales showed that big-money buyers of Scottish art are not in short supply. Seven classic watercolours of birds by Scots ornithologist Archibald Thorburn sold for 339,600 at a different auction last week, smashing pre-sale estimates.

Former coal-miner Vettriano is the self-taught "people's painter", who made a fortune from reprints of his popular pictures, from romantic period beach scenes to portraits of erotic encounters.

His prices peaked in 2004 with The Singing Butler. In 2007, his Bluebird At Bonneville fetched 468,000 at Sotheby's Gleneagles sale.

But on Thursday a series of paintings by the artist failed to reach relatively modest estimated values. Several were "studies", little more than a foot square, valued in the 15,000-25,000 range, but others were typical Vettriano pieces.

The highest seller was Game On, a 15in by 12in painting of a man and woman in suspenders locked in an erotic embrace. The last item in the Sotheby's sale, it carried an estimated price of 40,000-60,000, and sold for 49,250.

But the biggest shock, art dealers said yesterday, was the fate of Study For Heaven Or Hell – The Sweetest Choice. With an auctioneer's estimate of between 20,000 and 30,000, it did not find a buyer.

The Longing, estimated at 20,000-30,000, sold for 18,750. But Model Reclining, which sold for 37,250, was on Friday still listed at 87,500 on the website of the Portland Gallery, where director Tom Hewlett was until recently Vettriano's longtime dealer.

Artist And Model, valued at 50,000-70,000, did not sell. Nor did The Out Of Towners, a romantic beach scene of a woman in a yellow dress and two men in period clothes and hats, estimated at 40,000-60,000.

Scottish auctioneers and art dealers said Vettriano had "taken a hit", although the art world in general seldom likes to admit that prices can fall as well as surge.

"Some people were buying Vettrianos as an investment for almost any price a few years ago and maybe that's not the case at the moment," said one dealer.

Lyon & Turnbull director Nick Curnow said: "The prices (of Vettrianos] rose so fast and ultimately there weren't enough buyers who were prepared to pay the top money for what was available. When that happens, prices inevitably come down.

"It was to be expected, frankly, that there would be a reassessment so that those people with more modest amounts of money who want to buy can come back into the market."

In 2004 the auctioneers sold 1m worth of Vettriano works in one sale, he said.

Roderick Shale, an art consultant, suggested the Vettrianos were over-valued. "There are lots of people still out there trying to buy good ones, but even a small over-estimate can kill off success in a particular auction. The great thing with Jack, however, is that his paintings are instantly recognisable. You could be standing 100 yards away and they couldn't be by anyone else on the planet."

Vettriano and his representatives could not be contacted for comment.

Sotheby's head of Scottish pictures, Michael Grist, said: "Prices for Vettriano peaked several years ago and the market for the artist at auction has since levelled off, with very selective buying.

"We will continue to nurture and support Scottish contemporary art, such as the New Glasgow Boys (a group including Peter Howson, Ken Currie and other artists), but will review the volume of works by these individual artists in future sales."

Vettriano, 58, remains a popular draw for both the media and public. First Minister Alex Salmond was among guests last month at a private preview of a Vettriano exhibition at the Kirkcaldy Museum and Art Gallery.

One leading collector, entrepreneur Sir Tom Farmer, who has backed calls for the National Gallery of Scotland to stage an exhibition of his work, said: "His popularity among people, the mass of population, is still very high."