A century after Colin McCahon's birth, an Auckland auction house will sell $4 million worth of his work - from a tiny handmade Christmas card to a million-dollar oil from the Elias series.
The moral of this art auction story? Don't throw out the potato-print Christmas cards.
A hand-stamped festive greeting from Anne and Colin McCahon to fellow artist Rita Angus is expected to fetch up to $18,000 when it goes under the hammer in Auckland on Tuesday.
The Christmas message and accompanying potato-cut print of a figure hoeing tobacco was created around 1944, and is one of 21 lots in an upcoming McCahon-only auction by Art + Object.
With a combined top value of around $4 million, the catalogue celebrates 100 years since the birth of New Zealand's most famous painter.
One of the more expensive paintings on offer is being auctioned because it is too valuable for the owner's philanthropic collection.
Former Auckland City councillor Greg Moyle says any funds raised in the sale of Kauri Tree Tops (expected to fetch at least $250,000) will be used to buy more art for the hallways of his old school, Mt Albert Grammar.
Moyle has contributed around 200 pieces to the school's collection, many created by former alumni, including Stephen Banbury, John Pule, Billy Apple, Stanley Palmer and Sir Peter Siddell. Moyle has a separate collection of military art (some of which is on display at the Ranfurly Veterans Home and Hospital), and says he'd love to install the McCahon where others could enjoy it - but it's worth too much.
"It's too expensive for the school to hold. They would struggle with insurance arrangements. It means I can use the funds to acquire other works for the school and the military collection.
"It's either keep it or move it along so someone else can have the enjoyment and the money can be used to acquire more affordable works that I don't have a problem giving to the school."
Moyle credits his third form art teacher Arnold Manaaki Wilson with inspiring his passion for collecting. A police officer turned financial planner, Moyle bought art with his first pay cheque - and has now amassed a private collection of more than 1500 works.
"Schools can't use school funds to buy art, so that's been my contribution over the years. It's in the hallways and throughout the school ... if they build the walls, the art will come!"
Concerns that students could damage the work on display throughout Mt Albert Grammar have been unfounded, he says.
"I've noticed it in my own children - they almost gain an art appreciation by osmosis ... I think it becomes part of the ambience of the school."
Occasionally, says Moyle, there is "robust debate" with teachers about the suitability of some contemporary art for a school setting.
"I see the student art, and some of that is pretty edgy! I always back down. At the end of the day it's about the opportunities it gives to students at the school. Imagine a young Stephen Banbury or a young John Pule, and they're surrounded by significant art? It's not all incredibly valuable, but it's significant art by significant New Zealand artists. You don't know how that can influence."
Kauri Tree Tops is one of five McCahon's in the upcoming auction valued at $250,000 or more. The most expensive painting in the sale - a $1m-$1.5m large-scale work from the famous Elias series - has been returned to New Zealand from London.
Auctioneer Ben Plumbly says it is unusual - and risky - to devote an entire catalogue to a single artist.
"The really bizarre thing about the way this sale has turned out, is that a lot of the time people associate McCahon with monochrome and black and white and we've got this really brilliant brightly coloured, uplifting, spring celebratory catalogue of his work.
"But you can't control that when you're in my job. What comes in, comes in."
According to Plumbly, the potato-cut Christmas card print of a man hoeing a tobacco field, is "early as heck", dating from the time McCahon lived in Riwaka, near Nelson. While it is selling relatively cheaply for a McCahon, "to someone who really knows McCahon ... it's priceless. It's nice to have things that are historically important."
Tuesday's auction includes a second catalogue of works from the Marti and Gerrard Friedlander collection, including a 1972 McCahon painting Study of Kurow Hill. The current record for the most expensive painting ever sold at auction in New Zealand is McCahon's multi-panel painting the Canoe Tainui, which went for a hammer price of $1.35m in 2016.
Celebrating Colin McCahon - An Auction Event will take place on November 5. Two free public events - a floor talk by McCahon scholar Peter Simpson and a conversation with artist Judy Millar - are scheduled for this afternoon (Saturday, November 2) at Art + Object's Auckland auction house.