Others came from the many art fairs he’s visited or set up a stall at over the years, and found himself unable to leave without something under his arm. “There hasn’t been an art fair where I haven’t bought a couple of works of art,” he says.
But with the children gone, the grand five-bedroom Victorian family home of Bill Nuttall and wife Annette Reeves had to go too. So they called in art auctioneer Bonhams, put a few works off-limits, and asked them to pick a selection of the rest for sale.
The result is a cross-section that cuts through four decades of Australian art, and through the heart of one of its leading champions.
Walking through the sale exhibition at Bonhams gallery in Armadale he lingers in front of Big Brother, a looming late work by Gunter Christmann, a Sydney bohemian-about-town whose work also features in collections at the National Gallery of Australia and the British Museum.
“That’s a hard one to let go,” he thinks out loud. “He was an artist we were very close to. It’s interesting coming in here and seeing it. You think, ‘I want to keep that. I want to take that back.'”
It hung above their bed at home, he reluctantly reveals. “When they are in your house they become part of you. I guess you are spoiled.”
But he loves the idea that these pieces could go into someone else’s collection, find a new place to hang in a new home.
“Collecting art is one of the most positive vices you can have,” he says. “This is a way of continuing to share the joy of it all. It’s about a journey. You evolve. Taste shifts.”
Over the years he’s found himself more able to appreciate abstract painting – he used to strongly favour the figurative.
Another piece here helped him on that journey: Ralph Balson’s Matter Painting, which he bought from the artist’s estate.
“He always fascinated me. He was basically a house painter who went on to become one of our really great abstract painters – he inspired many of the young artists today.”
Nuttall says he’s noticed a change over the years in the way people buy art. It’s become a much quicker exercise, he says, and that’s a shame.
“When I started someone would come in, a lawyer eating an apple at lunch hour, and they’d want to look at the art, and we’d start chatting. Now they don’t have the opportunity. Everyone is moving too quickly.”
Though his own auction will be online, he prefers spending a little time with art before you buy it, getting to know it, and the story behind it and its maker.
“Art is one of those things that helps you slow down and just think a bit – reflect,” he says.
The auction will be live-streamed at 6pm on Tuesday, July 7 on Bonhams.com.
Nick Miller is Arts Editor of The Age.