Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

Ansdell’s unsigned 1849 exhibit, The Death of Gelert, had clearly been an important painting in its day. It depicts one of the most famous legends in Welsh folklore, Prince Llewelyn, the ‘ruler of all Wales’ who led an abortive rebellion against Edward I in 1282, had a favourite dog called Gelert who mysteriously disappeared from one of his master’s hunts. Llewelyn returned home to find his faithful hound covered in blood and the cradle of his infant son empty and overturned.

Presuming the worst, the enraged Llewelyn killed Gelert, only to discover his son alive and well behind his cradle next to the bloody body of a huge wolf. Llewelyn realises to his horror that he has just killed the dog that has saved the life of his son.

Ansdell’s depiction of this poignant tale of man’s inhumanity to man’s best friend had been acquired during the mid 19th century by the Blair family of Bolton, industrialists who were friends and business associates of the Ansdell family. The painting was later bequeathed by the family to the hospital they founded in Bolton in 1870.

This hospital was eventually closed, leaving The Death of Gelert – surely not the cheeriest image to hang in hospital – in the possession of the NHS, who after 1981 loaned it successively to the Bolton Art Gallery (where it was cleaned, relined and restored in 1994) and Bangor University, where it had hung for the last seven years.

This was all fascinating stuff, but these days subject is all and as we know the market for large Victorian genre paintings is highly selective.

The sight of a dead wolf and a dying Gelert was too much for most prospective purchasers and at the sale it was knocked down to a North West dealer at £16,000 (plus 15 per cent buyer’s premium) against a pre-sale estimate of £20,000-40,000.

Despite plenty of pre-sale publicity, the historic associations of the subject failed to spark interest from any Welsh collectors or institutions. Nonetheless a buyer was found for what in commercial terms was an extremely ‘tough’ Victorian painting.