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At North Mymms Park in Hertfordshire, a series of Victorian oils of prize cattle and ornithological art featured among the contents offered at Essex saleroom Sworders (23% buyer’s premium) on April 17-18.

The group of eight prize cattle oils drew a flurry of bids to contribute £38,650 to the £1.75m hammer total.

Knocked down over estimate at £12,500 was a large, 3ft 2in x 4ft 2in (97 x 1.27m) oil on canvas of a red and white Ayrshire bull, dated 1865, by Gourlay Steell (1819-94).

Referred to in his lifetime as the ‘Scottish Landseer’ and appointed by Queen Victoria as his country’s official animal painter, Steell painted a number of prized bulls that have become sought-after on the secondary market. At Bonhams Knightsbridge in 2014 a large depiction of an Ayrshire bull from 1845 was acquired for £16,000.

Conservative estimates

Elsewhere, a 12-lot group of conservatively estimated watercolours by the British ornithological artists Admiral Robert Mitford (1781-1870) and Prideaux John Selby (1788-1867) also found an eager audience, totalling £36,770.

These attractive works had come from the eminent collection of Henry Bradley Martin, whose huge library was dispersed across half-a-dozen sales from 1988-90 at Sotheby’s New York.

Selby’s highest-selling work was a 16½ x 19in (42 x 49cm) depiction of a raven, which sold for £5000, over seven times its top guide. Other recent prices include a hefty premium-inclusive £23,750 paid for a watercolour of a male kestrel (also with Bradley Martin provenance) at Christie’s dispersal of the Astor Collection in December, a sale which established new records for a number of 19th and 20th century ornithological painters.

The top-seller among the Mitford lots was a 14 x 9½in (35 x 24cm) work of a long-eared owl, which sold for a multi-estimate £5400 and is quite possibly a new auction record for the artist.

The picture section was led by John Glovers’ (1767-1849) Beggar’s Oak, an impressive oil depicting a celebrated tree that stood on Lord Bagot’s estate at Blithfield Hall in Staffordshire, which took £94,000 (see last week’s ATG, No 2340, for more on this and other picture highlights).

For a longer look at the overall North Mymms Park auction, see Auction Reports.