Items from the county council’s art collection may have to be put up for auction for a second time – amid fears an online bidder could have been deliberately pushing up the prices.

A total of 82 of the council’s drawings, paintings and prints went under the hammer at Cambridge-based auction house Cheffins last Thursday (April 25).

But following the auction, concerns were raised about the “behaviour” of one particular online bidder.

As a result, a ‘hold’ has been put on the sale of all the items in the auction that were bid on by this individual, including a number of items owned by the county council.

And pending the outcome of the investigation, a number of the items could go under the hammer for a second time.

Cheffins director Martin Millard said: “The Auction Technology Group is conducting a full investigation into suspicious bidding behaviour on the part of one online bidder during the Cheffins sale on Thursday April 25.

“Investigations are ongoing and we will not be publishing any results from the sale until we have further clarity on the situation.”

The first items from the council’s collection to be auctioned were sold in March by Cheffins for a total of £444,000 – with individual items selling for up to £37,000.

In advance of the latest auction, estimates for the 82 selected works – ranging from £30 to £200 – were said to be more “affordable” than those in the first sale.

Nevertheless a number of the works – not included in the ongoing investigation – went for sums that exceeded their estimates.

They included Porth Leven by Bertha Florence James for £600 and Harbour Wall by Charles Bartlett, sold for £400.

Watercolour Autumn Bunch by John Humphrey Spender went for £480. And John Cole’s oil on canvas Blue South raised £650.

And, speaking after the auction, auctioneer Brett Tryner said the sale had showed a growth in popularity of the artists from this modern period.

He said: “The second swathe of works from the Hertfordshire County Council Collection demonstrates even further the strength of the market for many of these artists who previously had little track record.

“These pictures from the 1940s, 50s and 60s are continually growing in popularity and now achieving much higher prices at auction.”

The county council built up its impressive collection over a number of years, after starting to purchase artworks that could be loaned to schools in 1949.

In 2017 councillors took the controversial decision to sell off – or give away – the bulk of the collection.

The county council will retain a number of pieces from its collection, including the four most valuable items – with an estimated value of £21.86million.

Funds raised from the sale of art, the council has said, will be used to improve the condition and visibility of the ‘nationally significant’ sculptures it own and invested in the pieces it retains to increase accessibility, improve display and interpretation.

In June last year a 1,500-signature petition called  for the plans to to be halted and for the exploration of further ways to fund and manage the collection for future generations.

More paintings from the Hertfordshire County Council collection will be entered into the next interiors sale at Cheffins on May 23.