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'Portrait of a girl holding pomegranates' by George Owen Wynne Apperley – £3800 at Burstow & Hewett.

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The self-taught British artist George Owen Wynne Apperley (1884-1960) was the artist behind the 2ft x 17in (63 x 43cm) watercolour of a girl holding pomegranates by the branches of a pomegranate tree.

It had been consigned with a clutch of 20th century Russian pictures from the estate of a local deceased collector, who also owned properties in Europe, to Battle saleroom Burstow & Hewett (20% buyer’s premium).

The picture was comparable to portraits Apperley painted of gypsy women in Granada, including one of an identical sitter with flowers in her hair that sold for $5850 (with fees) at auction in the US.

Offered on August 21, this East Sussex lot drew interest from a handful of bidders in Spain – where Apperley lived and worked – before it was knocked down to a buyer in the room at £3800.

Apperley based his art on Andalusian themes and customs, as well as exotic female semi-nudes and nudes, although these rarely seem to appear in the UK. The Art Sales Index records that of the four works by Apperley offered last year, none were auctioned in the UK. It also lists the painter’s auction record at £55,000 for the 1915 work The Death of Procris in 1989, suggesting few top works by the painter have come to auction in the intervening 30 years.

More of a surprise to the auction house was the performance of the unsigned monochrome watercolour. B&H auctioneer Mark Ellis said the 10 x 14in (25 x 35cm) drawing of a woman feeding an infant had come in with a group of “generally unfashionable” 19th century watercolours estimated at £50-100 each.

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Unsigned watercolour of a woman feeding an infant, catalogued as 18th century – £4600 at Burstow & Hewett.

This work, also estimated at £50-100 but catalogued as 18th century, attracted intense competition between a bidder on thesaleroom.com and another in the room before it was knocked down at £4600 to the latter, a collector based in the north of England. “I have no idea why it did so well but in hindsight it did have some quality to it. The buyer must have recognised the hand,” said Ellis.