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Mix them with middle-of-the-road Old Master pictures is the simple solution offered by Bonhams Knightsbridge (17.5/10% buyer’s premium).

According to specialist-in-charge Pippa Stockdale, the former doyenne of Bonhams’ Chelsea picture department who is about to take up her new role as managing director of Bonhams Knightsbridge, lower-value Victorian oils, as a whole, gain a new lease of life when they are combined with decorative quality paintings that aren’t deemed worthy of inclusion in a specialist Old Masters sale.

“Most other salerooms have held auctions that have become more and more specialised, but we’ve done it the other way round,” says Ms Stockdale. “It makes the sale look more interesting and it generates a lot more interest from Europe.”

The formula seems to improve selling rates. Bonhams’ February 10 sale of British and Continental oil paintings featured no five-figure prices, but nonetheless managed to attract buyers for 219 (72 per cent) of the 306 lots and the final premium-inclusive total of £247,000 came in just above the lower estimate.

Pippa Stockdale reckons that had the auction been devoted purely to lower- to middle-range Victorian material, the selling rate would have been nearer to 60 per cent.

Thanks to the presence of four Italian dealers who, according to Ms Stockdale, were indulging in “a lot of hand-waving and malicious staring at each other”, a number of Old Masters fetched over-estimate prices, led by the £6600 bid for a large 6ft 6in x 3ft 10in (2.03m x 1.16m) 18th century Italian School canvas of a classical warrior.

Attractively estimated at £1000-1500, in less-than-wonderful condition having now been laid on board, and clearly just a fragment of what must originally have been an enormous mythological painting, this was absolutely typical of the sort of decorative quality Old Master paintings that characterise these monthly sales.

Also in compromised condition was the Alfred de Breanski Senior (1852-1928) oil of Windsor Castle from the Thames at Dusk featured on the front cover of the catalogue and estimated at £10,000-12,000.

This signed 2ft x 3ft 6in (61cm x 1.02m) canvas had been relined following some water damage, which cooled trade enthusiasm for the lot.

However, although it failed to sell at the auction itself, it did find a buyer soon afterwards at what dealers regarded as a more realistic price of £8000.

Most expensive of the Victorian pictures to find a buyer at the sale itself was a large and crowded canvas of what appeared to be five members of the same family, two dogs and a gillie after a successful shoot.

Measuring 3ft 8in x 4ft 6in (1.12 x 1.38m) and attributed to a Follower of Richard Ansdell, this rated £7800 against an estimate of £5000-7000.

Overall, some 68 per cent of the lots were bought by the trade.