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Around a dozen Psaier collectors and dealers turned up intent on spending, and there was a healthy proportion of commissions and at least a couple of phones, one of whom secured the top lot of the sale, an acrylic on canvas, entitled Marilyn and Picasso, the model and the painter, from 1986, which took £10,000.

How many other potential bidders had been put off by questions raised over the artist in recent weeks was not clear, but, as Mr Nicholson took to the rostrum just before 2pm, the saleroom was only half full, although more people came in as proceedings got underway.

Mr Nicholson announced that he would make no further comment on the controversy – whether the artist ever existed or worked with Andy Warhol – saying he would let the art speak for itself, but he invited those present to visit PietroPsaierArtist.com, the website where he has put up the evidence he has gathered to support his belief that the Psaier legend is no confidence trick.

The sale got off to a slow start, many of the more minor works, priced in the low hundreds, coming in below estimate, with the odd buy-in. Bidding started to get going for the more abstract watercolours, but anything outside the montage work – notably the sketches of nudes – was left cold.

The trade in the room and the commission bids started to come alive the moment the mixed-media screen work came on the block, but even here prices went from just below to mid-estimate.

Regardless of the provenance, one dealer who bought heavily said he took the works on decorative and artistic merit alone – if they were pretty and had pretty girls on them he had ready buyers for every one, he told ATG.

A private buyer in the room, who already has a collection of more than 20 Psaier works, added another half a dozen or so across the sale.

Interestingly, it was the images that had appeared alongside the recent press reports that were amongst the most sought after. Antrapa, which appears in the background of photos purporting to be of the artist, took £1150 from a bidder in the room against a £300-400 estimate, while Not For Sissies. All American Comic Book Heroes, featuring Superman, went to a double mid-estimate £1500.

All in all, Mr Nicholson declared himself satisfied with a day that he said cleared somewhere just over £120,000, and there was certainly a queue for after sales.

He believes that it was the general downturn in the market that kept prices down rather than adverse media coverage.

As for the ongoing investigation into Psaier and any possible links with Andy Warhol, expect more from Mr Nicholson and his research colleagues soon.

By Ivan Macquisten