TAKE a beautiful sitter, a leading portraitist, add a touch of glamour and offer with an appetising estimate. Such is the recipe for a riotous bidding feast.
All these ingredients were mixed together out in North Eastern America last month when this striking portrait of Lady Charlotte Percy, Countess of Ashburnham by Sir John Hoppner (1758-1810) came up at Maine auctioneers James D. Julia on February 4-5.
Estimated at $15,000-20,000, it came from a private collection in New Jersey, having been purchased by the vendor's family along with a number of other pictures from New York galleries in the 1950s.
The subject was the second wife of George Ashburnham, third Earl of Ashburnham, with whom she had 13 children. This 4ft 2in x 3ft 4in (1.28 x 1.02m) oil on canvas was painted in 1794, the year before they married.
The picture, regarded as one of the artist's most stylish portraits, became well known in its day and an engraving of the image by Charles Wilkin appears in the plate-book A Select Series of Ladies of Rank and Fashion, issued between 1797 and 1803.
At the sale the portrait drew considerable US and overseas interest, with more than ten interested parties. Strong bidding came from both Britain and Europe, but it was knocked down to a buyer from the Eastern United States at $165,000 (£108,550) plus 15 per cent premium.
The price was the second highest made at auction for Hoppner according to Artnet, only behind the £150,000 seen for Portrait of a Lady as Evelina, sold at Sotheby's in London in November 2003.
By Alex Capon