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The embroidery, pictured right, featured nine members of an English family, draped tents, their houses and domestic animals. A piece that had previously sold at Phillips Leeds in 1984, it was acquired by Leonard and Jacquelyn Balish of New Jersey. In that year Mrs Balish wrote to the Victoria and Albert Museum about her new acquisition and received a reply from the V&A’s Linda Parry, describing the piece as “typical amateur domestic work” that she believed to be “the story of one family worked by one of the ladies of the family”.

What reinforced Mrs Parry’s opinion was that she knew of another embroidery in an English collection, almost certainly by the same hand, but dated 1738, showing the family eight years earlier. The family members are identifiable as the same, she added. One had died in the interim and they appeared to be in reduced circumstances as the houses shown in Mrs Balish’s embroidery are not as grand as the one in the earlier work. Neither the Balishes nor Joan Stephens, however, were successful in tracing the owner of this other picture and by the time of the 1997 Stephens auction Mrs Parry’s tantalising reference had become just that.
But this year, when the interesting embroidered family picture, shown left, was brought to Anne-Marie Benson at Bonhams’ Bond Street rooms, it rang some bells. She remembered the women and the distinctive tents, recalled the Leeds and Stephens sales and went home to look up her copy of the Stephens’ catalogue. The stylistic similarities were striking: there were the nine family members and the grander house and it was dated 1738. Anne-Marie Benson was looking at the lost picture described in such detail by Linda Parry.

The 1738 embroidery contained in a glazed frame measuring 211/4in by 3ft 1in (54 x 94cm) came up in Bonhams’ November 21 auction of costume and textiles, where it was the sale’s highlight with an estimate of £40,000-60,000 (ie, more or less in line with the $90,000 realised by its 1746 companion in the Stephens sale). It duly sold for £68,000, going to a private collector.

Discussing the 1738 embroidery after the sale, Anne-Marie Benson said she thought it could well have remained in the same family in which Linda Parry saw it in the 1960s.

From her researches into the provenances of the two embroideries, she reckoned their source was probably Bolton Hall, North Yorkshire, seat of the Dukes of Bolton and home of the Paulet family.
Ms Benson could not comment on whether the buyer was the same New York purchaser who had bought the Stephens companion piece, but it would be a satisfying outcome if the two pictures had been finally reunited.