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The latter was topped by a painting of an exotically attired mandolin player executed by James Smetham (1821-89), a follower of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-82).

The 19½ x 16in (49 x 41cm) oil on canvas was last on the market in 1970, when it sold for £900 to the Pre-Raphaelite expert, Jeremy Maas. Although subsequently believed to be a joint collaboration between Smetham and Rossetti, Christie’s catalogued it as solely by the latter.

Consigned from a private European collection, it sold for a major new record when it was knocked down to an anonymous phone bidder at £390,000.

Smetham’s previous high was a premium-inclusive £12,500 set at Sotheby’s London in December 2015 for a portrait of the mythological figure Pandora. In all, Christie’s 123-lot sale of Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite and British Impressionist pictures on December 13 totalled £1.98m, with 63% of lots finding buyers.

Results were patchier at Sotheby’s smaller 82-lot sale a day later, with a 55% take-up and a £1.46m total.


The top-earner was a painting exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1864 by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope (1829-1908), a second-wave Pre-Raphaelite.

Depicting Penelope, the faithful wife of King Odysseus and a golden-haired girl probably intended to be a servant called Melantho, the 3ft 6in x 2ft 8in (1.07m x 81cm) oil on canvas sold for £530,000 against a £400,000-600,000 estimate. That is now the second-highest price for the artist at auction.

Elsewhere, among the contingent of British Impressionist paintings, a Laura Knight (1877-1970) nude sold for £45,000 against a £25,000- 35,000 estimate.

Depicting the English artist and model Eileen Mayo (1906- 94), it had last sold at Tennants of Leyburn in July 2015 for £33,000.