Consigned to a two-day sale on July 24-25, the unframed 4ft 7in x 3ft 5in (1.4 x 1.04m) oil on canvas was catalogued as ‘possibly’ depicting George Anson (1697-1762), the renowned former First Lord of the Admiralty best remembered for his rather fraught circumnavigation of the globe on board HMS Centurion in 1740-44.
The sitter, painted against an exotic background, points with his right hand to a map of Tierra Del Fuego and Cape Horn, his left resting near two large pieces of fruit.
Anson’s adventures off the coast of South America and his so-called ‘discovery’ of breadfruit could explain the significance of both objects in the composition, even though he is not painted with such items in any other comparable portraits.
It was on the island of Tinian, a Spanish possession in the Pacific, where it is said Anson’s scurvy-ridden crew first ate breadfruit. Anson believed the large prickly oval fruit saved their lives (although the island’s abundance of citrus fruit probably played a more vital role).
Staking his claim to its discovery or perhaps a mark of his gratitude, Anson had a 206-piece dinner service made, decorated to the centre with a breadfruit tree.
Signed as Miller
The picture at Chorley’s had been in the same collection “for a number of years”, said auctioneer Thomas Jenner-Fust, and is believed to date to c.1750 – several years after Anson returned from Tinian and before Joshua Reynolds and his studio painted him in 1754.
It has been suggested that the artist might be Johann Sebastian Müller (c.1715-92), a German engraver and botanist active in London who also painted landscapes and occasionally naval subjects. The oil is indistinctly signed I Miller.
Re-lined, cleaned and heavily restored, it sold to one of two eager bidders at £7500, nearly 10 times its £600-800 guide. The buyer was from the UK trade.
Elsewhere, ‘ready-to-hang’ decorative portraits were in strong demand among private buyers throughout the £460,000 sale.
A copy of a well-known portrait of Maria Theresa, Empress of Austria, by the studio of Martin van Meytens (1695-1770) sold to a private European buyer for a mid-estimate £5000.
The 4ft 11in x 4ft 1in (1.5 x 1.26m) oil on canvas was among a number of items from the collection of singer-songwriter Roger Whittaker (b.1936), acquired for his neo- Regency Herefordshire property, Cubberley House between 1992-99.
Decorative interest was also the main attraction in a 19th century copy of Joos van Cleve’s (c.1485-1541) pious portrait of a young woman in a starched white headpiece. It was knocked down to an anonymous buyer at £2500, well above the £200-300 guide. Despite being the work of an unknown hand, the 17 x 14in (44 x 36cm) oil on panel also came in an attractive frame with Gothic tracery.