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The final total of £1.46m also appeared to be impressive enough, though owing partly to the failure of two John Frederick Herring oils with six-figure estimates, that final total, like so many recent sale totals in London, was well below its estimate – in this case £1.9m-2.8m.

A group of 16 quality paintings from the collection of the late John James, a Bristol-based businessman in the electronics sector, who was buying from London dealers in the 1970s, provided the commercial backbone of the sale. Pick of the James pictures was the 221/4in by 2ft 111/2in (56 x 90cm) Frederico del Campo (1837-1927) canvas of The Grand Canal, Venice, featured on the front cover of the catalogue. Estimated at £70,000-100,000, this predictably triggered a bidding battle between the usual suspects of London’s West End trade before falling to an equally predictable ‘anonymous’ buyer at £125,000.

The sale was also distinguished by its inclusion of an encouragingly high percentage of more affordable
unrestored market-fresh pictures, such as this untouched, unframed Walter Waller Caffyn (1845-1898) canvas, signed and dated 1891 and inscribed Harvest time, Ewhurst, Surrey, looking towards Leith Hill, which took £16,000 against an estimate of £10,000-15,000.

It could be argued that if an auctioneer can’t find a buyer for an untouched harvest scene set in what is now one of the Home Counties’ prime stockbroker belts, they might as well give up, but, as everyone knows, the market for middle-range Victorian pictures has been extremely inconsistent of late.

“It just goes to show that if a painting is untouched, in good enough condition and you get the estimate right, there are still people out there for Victorian paintings,” commented auctioneer Charles O’Brien.