Vivienne Sharpe outside the Supreme Court. Photo: Ben RushtonSydney art consultant Vivienne Sharpe has been accused of deceiving her client, barrister Louise McBride, when she negotiated a side agreement with Menzies auction house for a large commission as part of a distress sale of Ms McBride’s art collection in 2010.
She was also accused of being ”selective” in her memory of conversations with Christie’s over the provenance of a fake Albert Tucker painting, which is at the heart of a Supreme Court case that is lifting the lid on art fraud in Australia.
But on Tuesday the case also laid bare the unravelling of a 17-year-old friendship between Ms McBride and Ms Sharpe.
Ms Sharpe, a well-known art dealer in Sydney, had bid for Ms McBride on a Tucker at a Christie’s auction in May 2000. Ms McBride was overseas.
The painting, since revealed as a fake, was passed in at $35,000 because Ms Sharpe said there had been no real bidding interest in the room. Yet within hours she purchased the painting for $75,000 through negotiations with Christie’s staff member Fiona Hayward.
She strongly denied she had lodged the bid without authority and explained there had been post-auction interest requiring the higher price.
Ms Sharpe also faced close questioning as to whether she had seen a letter from Christie’s which would have raised doubts about the provenance of the Tucker with a prudent art dealer, because it was inconsistent with the description in the Christie’s catalogue.
Ms Sharpe said she had relied on Christie’s description in the catalogue and had never seen the second inconsistent provenance. Asked how this could be so, she said she given Christie’s Ms McBride’s address to send the letter direct, even though this was not normally what she would do, because Christie’s already knew the identity of her client.
”You are lying,” Ms McBride’s barrister, Francis Douglas, QC, said when she denied seeing the letter.
”I don’t agree at all,” Ms Sharpe replied.
Mr Douglas also accused Ms Sharpe of being ”unsparing” in detailing in affidavits Ms McBride’s financial and personal problems in 2009 which Ms McBride had confided to her while agonising over the sale of her art collection.
”I worked extremely hard to get the best deal on Louise’s paintings. I was trying to help Louise,” Ms Sharpe said.
In 2010 Ms McBride opted to sell a Jeffrey Smart, with a guaranteed price, which meant the auction house guaranteed a price of $360,000 but the upside would be split 40 per cent with the seller and 60 per cent with the auction house.
Ms McBride said she did not know Ms Sharpe was sharing the auction house’s cut 50/50. The painting achieved a very high price.
Ms Sharpe denied that she had encouraged Ms McBride to take the guaranteed price over a normal auction or that she had deceived her client for personal gain.
But she agreed she had not told Ms McBride about the arrangement with the auction house.
Ms McBride is suing Christie’s, art dealer Alex Holland, and Ms Sharpe over the purchase.