Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

It was certainly not in the same league as their fine selection last November that featured a £34,000 Samuel Cooper portrait of a Parliamentarian or, indeed, their forthcoming sale of the Albion collection in April.

Nonetheless with 75 per cent of the lots finding takers and 15 new registered bidders, the department was pleased enough with the results. Added to the high take-up were some higher than expected prices for a handful of unassuming-sounding and very modestly estimated entries.

Leading the day, for example, was a pair of portraits of a lady and gentleman catalogued as “Continental school” and “early 19th century”. He sported an Order of the Golden Fleece and what the auctioneers originally thought were priest’s robes of gold-figured crimson lined in silk. She was dressed in a white dress with pearl necklace, jewelled tiara and veil. The pair was not in the best condition, the ivory on which they were painted having cracked, and Bonhams had guided them at a modest £300-500, but the private buyers who contested them evidently had more ideas about the sitters’ identity and rated them higher, taking the bidding up to no less than £5400.

It transpires that what the auctioneers thought was an elaborately vestmented priest was in fact the Archduke Josef Johann of Austria (1776-1847) and the lady his wife, the Grand Duchess of Russia.

There was also much more interest than expected for an even more modestly estimated but much earlier oil-on-copper portrait of a lady in a black dress with an elaborate white lace collar which the auctioneers had described as “school of Prague c.1610”. This left its £250-350 estimate in the shade when it was pursued up to £2500, the hammer falling to a trade buyer.

The miniature, shown right, was contained in a pierced ormolu frame described as having “birds holding swords to either side”, which the auctioneers thought might be a little later in date. However, the frame’s avian design also looked like the type of crowned double-headed eagle of the Austro- Hungarian Empire, so one wonders if it may have had some bearing on the miniature’s provenance?

Following these in price was an early 19th century English school portrait of an officer in uniform contained in a gold frame initialled NWK on plaited blond hair. The sitter’s distinctive scarlet coat with yellow facings and black and silver lace identified him as almost certainly of the 92nd Highlanders. It is always a bonus to be able to attribute such portraits to a specific regiment, but Bonhams’ Camilla Seymour also reckoned it was the nicest English miniature in the sale. It duly quadrupled expectations, selling for £2000.

The most expensive attributed miniature in the sale was a lady in a lilac-coloured dress with fichu and powdered hair by George Engleheart, inscribed to the gold frame J.P./AE 43/25 aug/1787. This sold for £1400, just under the lower end of its £1500-2500 estimate.

The silhouette market can be a little mercurial in its performance, with some of the more elaborate conversation pieces pursued to considerable heights. On this occasion, however, there were no dramatic results, the most expensive, as predicted, being the catalogue cover entry, an English school silhouette of a boy in a Petersham coat and brimmed hat with his dog, set against a painted background, that sold for £780.