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The country, needless to say, was Australia.

Such legendary directness was even to be seen in the relatively genteel surroundings of Christie’s Melbourne (17.5/15 per cent buyer’s premium) June 28 Sale after the Harold E. Mertz Collection of Australian Art notched up a premium-inclusive total of A$16m (£6.7m) with 100 per cent of the 153 lots finding buyers.

“An astounding record-blitzing result,” boomed Roger McIlroy, chairman and managing director of Christie’s Australia. “New auction records were established for more than 30 Australian artists and the overall result more than doubles the previous total value for an art auction in Australia,” he continued in no-nonsense triumphalist mode.

Harold Mertz was a New York businessman who during a period of just three years (1964-1966) acquired what was then the finest collection of modern Australian painting in private hands. Following a lengthy tour in the late 1960s to fulfil Mertz’s dream that “a comprehensive collection of Australian painting would be travelled widely in America”, the collection was given to the University of Texas at Austin in 1971. However, following the bequest of the massive James A. Michener Collection of Latin American art to the university in the 1980s, these Australian paintings had been kept in storage. In tune with the wishes of Mertz’s late wife, LuEsther who died in 1991, the University of Texas decided to de-accession the entire collection and send it for sale back in Australia.

As the final total might suggest, the Mertz Collection, which had been compiled using the expert advice of North Adelaide dealer Kym Bonython, contained some large-scale trophy pictures by the most sought-after names in Australian art.

Russell Drysdale (1912-1981) and Sidney Nolan (1917-1992) are the blue-chip names of this particular market and they duly shared top honours at the Mertz sale, generating a joint top price of A$1.2m (£502,090). This was an auction record for both artists and (according to Christie’s) the “equal third highest price for Australian painting”. Neither artist had hitherto broken the A$1m barrier.

Both paintings were absolutely archetypical images by their respective artists. Drysdale’s 1966 oil Billy Grace at Cattle Creek, a 2ft 51/2in by 4ft 11/2in (75cm x 1.26m) canvas showing a gnarled cattle farmer silhouetted against a desolate expanse of sun-baked outback, was exactly the sort of romantically stoical subject that Drysdale collectors so admire, while Sidney Nolan’s similarly sized 1954 ripolin on board, Death of Constable Scanlon - evoking an incident in October 1878 when two policemen were shot dead in the outback – was an extremely striking example of Nolan’s internationally-acclaimed ‘Ned Kelly’ series. Both were bought by private collectors.

Among the other records achieved at the Mertz sale, perhaps the most notable was the double-estimate A$500,000 (£209,205) given for the signed and dated 1959 oil, Scudding Swans, by John de Burgh Perceval (b.1923).

This cheerily decorative 2ft 101/2in by 3ft 11in (88cm x 1.19m) oil of black swans swimming at the old Melbourne port of Williamstown is now, according to Christie’s press office, the most expensive work by a living Australian artist. Clearly Australian contemporary art collectors have yet to develop a taste for swans in formaldehyde.

John de Burgh Perceval’s Scudding Swans now lays claim to being the most expensive work by a living Australian painter after it fetched A$500,000 (£209,205) at the Mertz sale.