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Christie’s South Kensington’s (17.5/10% buyer’s premium) February 21 sale of affordable Old Master Pictures in the £500-5000 range notched up a total of £430,000 with an impressive 80 per cent of the 285 lots finding buyers.

“We benefited from being one of the few Old Master picture sales held in Europe between December and April,” commented specialist-in-charge Roy Bolton.“A lot of people came over from the Continent looking for bargains. People just wanted pictures.”

With the Italian trade and English-based private buyers (who bought almost three-quarters of the sale) out in force, there were precious few bargains to be had.

The one major surprise of the day, though perhaps not one that constitutes a major sleeper, was this 3ft 103/4in by 3ft 4in (1.19 x 1.01m) canvas of Saint Francis of Assisi, shown right, and catalogued as being After Giovanni Francesco Barieri, Il Guercino.

Described as being derived “from the picture in Barbieri Chapel, Chiesa del SS. Rosario” and estimated at £2000-3000, this dirty and thickly varnished painting was contested by two Continental dealers to £19,000.

When asked to comment on the result, Roy Bolton replied in time-honoured CSK style: “We’ve got over it now and we’ve nothing further to add.”