Melbourne socialite Susan Renouf proved it pays to wait when she sold a painting by Sidney Nolan at the weekend for $1.45 million after pulling it out of a Deutscher-Menzie auction five years ago on the eve of the sale. Renouf withdrew the catalogue cover picture of Ned Kelly called Outlaw in a dispute over the reserve.

Deutscher-Menzies had set the reserve at $700,000 but Renouf wanted it raised to the top estimate of $900,000 and when the firm’s executive director Chris Deutscher said this could not be done, she took the painting away. Five years on, the painting was listed in an auction to be held on Sunday by boutique saleroom Mossgreen.

Paul Sumner, a former managing director of Sotheby’s established the firm two years ago and has had series of spectacular successes, including selling a painting by John Olsen last October for $1.09 million and a work by Brett Whiteley of Byron Bay that sold privately in July for a sum believed to be close to $1.5 million.

So how did Sumner score the Nolan when dealers and auctioneers have been trying to lure it away from Renouf for years? He said he had known Renouf for a long time and had built up a relationship based on trust. “She liked the way we were packaging the picture, offering it as separate lot at the beginning of a sale of the Clifford Hocking collection and marketing it around Australia with a brochure separate to the Hocking catalogue.”

Several wealthy collectors had indicated they would be prepared to pay up to $1 million for the Nolan and when one suggested he would go as far as $1.45 million, Sumner told Renouf it was unlikely to achieve more than that if it went under the hammer and she agreed.

Having recently moved to a smaller home – featured in the latest Vogue – Renouf is said to have thought the stark Nolan of Ned in his iconic helmet did not suit the new décor. In a statement released this morning she said she had been living in England in the late 1970s when she bought the Nolan.

It graced the walls in many of my larger homes overseas and then back in Australia. It is a stunning and unique Australian painting, and international friends and visitors always remembered Ned the bushranger. I am delighted Ned is to stay in our country in a private collection and thrilled Mossgreen has sold Ned for a record price.

Denis Savill, Australia’s biggest art dealer, has handled hundreds of Nolans over more than two decades. He said the sale of the Outlaw was a spectacular outcome for Renouf and Sumner. “Look at the implications: here is a painting that was valued at $700,000 in 2002 and now sells for nearly $1.5 million which shows how strong the top of the market is. No-one knows how far these prices will go.”

Peter Fray

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