Bellmans' picture specialist James Gadd first saw the painting in January, the result of a conversation with a local builder. The vendor was a descendant of the Marshall family, the largest salt proprietors in 18th century Cheshire.
Research at the Derby Museum and Art Gallery (where a similar work with a provenance back to Wright's studio sale in 1801 hangs) suggested this 2ft 4in x 3ft 3in (70cm x 1m) oil might be the other of two versions of the subject recorded in Wright's accounts. A 1795 letter written by Wright to Nathanial Phillips, his client, highlighted his concerns at completing the work prior to Phillips' scheduled departure for America.
If he did miss this deadline, it may be that painting never left in the United Kingdom.
Displaying the skills of a pioneer in luminescence, the painting was bought by an anonymous telephone bidder, against several other interested parties. It had been estimated to fetch £70,000-90,000 at the auction on April 25.
"This is the most expensive painting that I have sold at Bellmans, but the increments were easy, I just had to remember the number of noughts," said James Gadd.
The buyer's premium was 20%.