Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

First of these surprise packages was the oil-on-canvas still life of flowers, right, in the “Manner of Cornelis Kick” that soared to a shock £32,000 at Christie’s South Kensington’s (17.5/10% buyer’s premium) October 11 sale of British and Continental Pictures against an estimate of just £1500-2000.

Specialist-in-charge Nicholas Holloway was keen to dismiss any thoughts that CSK might have under catalogued this 193/4 by 151/2in (50 x 39cm) still life of tulips, roses, peonies and other flowers in a glass vase. “It was just a very nice quality thing and two people wanted it, that was all,” said Mr Holloway, who suggested it was simply the composition’s decorative appeal that was responsible for the price and there was no speculative edge to the lot in terms of authorship.

However, according to the London Old Master trade, the painting was in fact a good quality autograph (though unsigned) work by the highly rated Hague School still life painter Simon Verelst (1644-1721), who has fetched substantial six-figure sums at fully catalogued Old Master auctions in London and New York. At least three London dealers, if not CSK, had identified the painting and it was finally knocked down to Richard Green at £32,000.

Five days later, on October 16, at least two London dealers were also on the case when Phillips Bayswater (15/10% buyer’s premium) offered this 2ft 6in by 2ft 1in (77 x 63cm) oval portrait, bottom right, of “a gentleman purported to be Dr. Johnson” by a “follower of Thomas Gainsborough” with an estimate of £700-900.

Once again, knowledgeable traders scented a serious profit and ace sleeper-hunter Anthony Mould secured it with a bid of £40,000. Speaking via Phillips’ press office, specialist-in charge Peter Flory, who was formerly an Old Master specialist at CSK, maintained that he “stood by” his catalogue entry and that the painting made its money because of the subject matter, rather than because it was a work by Gainsborough himself.