A Dick Frizzell portrait of Sir Edmund Hillary - one of five paintings of inspiring New Zealanders commissioned for the Herald's 150th birthday - sold at auction for $5600.

The works went under the hammer at Auckland auction house Art+Object last night, raising $19,150, which went to the Starship National Air Ambulance service.

Sally Ridge won the auction for a Kate Sheppard portrait with her bid of $2250.

The 42-year-old was on the phone during bidding and slipped out of the auction room soon after with her partner Warren Fenning and daughter Jaime.


The buyer of the Hillary portrait wanted to remain anonymous. He said he didn't usually buy art but the combination of Hillary and Frizzell was too good to miss.

"Well it's iconic isn't it? He's [Hillary] an iconic New Zealander and Frizzell is a great artist," he said.

"That combination took my fancy."

He planned to hang it in his North Shore home and just "look at it and enjoy it" and said he'd always wanted a Frizzell.

The remaining portraits - of Ernest Rutherford, Dame Whina Cooper and Richie McCaw - were won by phone bidders or people who did not attend the auction. A crowd of about 60 people were at the sale which also featured taxidermy, furniture, lighting and ceramics.

Art+Object auctioneer Ben Plumbly said the Hillary portrait's $5600 closing price was an outstanding result. "I think for a small Frizzell work on paper, that is an exceptional price, no question," he said.

Art+Object had valued the portraits at the low end of the scale - between $1500 and $3000 - to attract as many bidders as possible.

Mr Plumbly said the high closing prices were an indication of just how special the portraits were. "These were small - quite intimately scaled works on paper - and they were just totally unique," he said. "I don't imagine Dick has plans to make many more of these."

Starship Foundation chief executive Brad Clark said the money would go towards the National Air Ambulance's trauma service, which flies top medical experts to life-threatening emergencies. "We're just stoked that the Herald was able to think of us and the whole project."

Mr Clark said it was a great opportunity for people to give to charity and pick up a Frizzell as well.

The five portraits were on the cover of the 150th birthday edition of the Herald on November 13.

Artist Dick Frizzell explains the creation of the New Zealand Herald’s very special 150th birthday wrap cover.