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Secured for consignment from a “distinguished New England collector” against stiff competition from Sotheby’s, this c.1782 canvas, measuring 4ft 6in x 3ft 71/2in (1.37m x 1.10m) had been purchased at auction by the family of the present American owners back in 1948. Randolph ‘Citizen Kane’ Hearst was one of a number of distinguished former owners.

Given the provenance and subject, a pre-sale estimate of £700,000-£1m seemed fully justified. However, as the sale loomed suggestions were made that Christie’s painting was inferior in quality to another version in the collection of the Marquess of Lansdowne at Bowood House, Wiltshire. The two paintings were duly put side by side at Bowood and in the Paris-like judgment of Tate Britain’s Martin Postle, co-author of the Reynolds catalogue raisonné, Christie’s painting was deemed to have a greater degree of studio involvement.

As a result the vendors decided to withdraw the painting from the sale. Coincidentally, the Bond Street dealers Elwes and Hanham currently have on consignment yet another of what are thought to be at least six
different versions of this celebrated composition. Priced in the “low six figures”, this 3ft x 2ft 4in (91 x 71cm) canvas, below, has been deemed by Postle to be an autograph work executed around 1782.

This particular version is thought to have been one of the more intimately-scaled “fancy pictures” Reynolds produced for his private clients.