A few days after Edvard Munch's The Scream went in 12 minutes in New York for £74 million, objects which might normally have ended up in a local charity shop were up for sale at Shapes's monthly auction.
The sale, said a representative for Shapes, had been arranged by one of Vettriano's relatives. Originally housed in the studio flat he kept in Nairn Street, Kirkcaldy, they were now deemed surplus to requirements because the artist was increasingly spending time in London.
Among the choice items – at least in the auctioneer's estimation – were an electric kettle, liberally spattered with paint, which was estimated to fetch £20, and a red 1950s metal-framed chair, going to rust, which featured in several of Vettriano's paintings, with a guide price of £40-£60.
Taken out of their erotically charged context, neither these nor other items exuded the glamour normally associated with Vettriano's work. But for potential bidders whose imagination needed a nudge Shapes pointed them to paintings in which they were props.
An old-fashioned bakelite, cream-coloured phone – also expected to go for between £40 and £60 – had appeared in The Arrangement. In it a naked, raven-haired woman with red lipstick and black stilettos sits on a bed, holding a lit cigarette in one hand and the phone in the other. Such provenance is the stuff of auctioneers' dreams, irrespective of whether the phone works.
The most expensive of the 27 lots for sale was a pair of brown leather armchairs, each with "arched back over loose cushion seat, sabre arms and splayed legs" which, it would not be unreasonable to assume, were once sat upon by Vettriano. They were estimated to make between £400 and £600. Also highly prized was "a late Victorian sofa", as "immortalised" in the painting Original Sin, in which a woman in a black dress is pictured about to bite into what could be a Granny Smith's apple.
At roughly 100 lots per hour, it was nearly five hours into the sale by the time those associated with Vettriano were reached. First up was the red chair on which one potential bidder had parked himself, apparently oblivious to its role in art history. Bidding was brisk and soon reached £600 when it was knocked down to Murdo Macdonald from Edinburgh who described it as "an iconic piece".
A pair of Art Deco mahogany bookends were next, which were deemed to be worth £40-£60 but which went eventually to a phone bidder for £160. It would perhaps be misleading to describe the atmosphere as tense. But it was more exciting than it had been for the previous few hours when mahogany dining tables, assorted chairs, wardrobes and tapestry fire guards went for a song or not at all.
In the past Shapes has sold painting by Vettriano for six-figure sums. In 2006, it sold Dance Me To The Edge Of Love, which took its title from the Leonard Cohen song of the same name, for £346,000. The record for a Vettriano is £744,800, which was paid in 2004 for The Singing Butler.
Nothing here, however, reached those dizzy heights. Nevertheless, as one cynical dealer observed, the £90 paid by an anonymous buyer for a set of white Asco weighing scales (accompanied with an envelope marked "Jacks [sic] scales" and a handwritten note saying "as favoured by confectioners and ice-cream parlours in the prewar years") is unlikely to be bettered any time soon.
Two kettles, including the aforementioned paint-spattered one, went for £190, despite the fact that they have never appeared in one of Vettriano's paintings. Less well appreciated were two sets of side tables which were sold for a fiver. Another table – how many does one man need? – went for £25 "even if," as the auctioneer noted, "it didn't belong to him".
A red phone was sold for £140 to a lady who would not surrender her name but confessed to owning "a few of Jack's prints". On being told by the Sunday Herald that it appeared to have the painter's number on it, she said: "How do you know that? Oh yeah, you're a journalist, you've probably hacked into it."
The cream-coloured phone which had been prominent in the pre-sale publicity provoked furious bidding before eventually reaching £550, more than 10 times its estimated price. A board on which potential buyers were assured that Vettriano had mixed his paints on went for £400 while the sofa of Original Sin fame was knocked down for £2400 and is already probably on eBay.
Vettriano, who turned 60 last November, was born Jack Hoggan in Fife. He worked in the mines and initially took up painting as a hobby. Until recently, when the Scottish National Portrait Gallery acquired one of his paintings, he was shunned by the art establishment. But his fans outwith it are legion and include celebrities such as Jack Nicholson, Sir Alex Ferguson and Sir Jackie Stewart, none of whom was in attendance at yesterday's sale unless heavily disguised.
Nor was Vettriano. Believed to earn around £500,000 annually from the sale of prints of his work, he is this Sunday estimated to be a few a thousand pounds better off.