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Contemporary copy of Canaletto’s 'The Bucintoro' returning to the Molo on Ascension Day by a ‘Follower of’ – £80,000 at Chorley’s.

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Although catalogued in the September 22-23 sale as ‘Follower of’, the 2ft 5in x 4ft 1in (74cm x 1.26m) oil was previously attributed to William James (active c.1730-80), an elusive figure in 18th century English painting.

James was among many artists who imitated Canaletto’s style, making highly skilled contemporary copies to fulfil demand for Venetian views among the wealthy on the Grand Tour. In Anecdotes of Painters (1808), Edward Edwards (1738-1806) went so far as to claim the painter worked as Canaletto’s studio assistant and pupil on his 1754 trip to England. As little biographical information on James survives, however, no evidence has yet been found to support this.

The picture at Chorley’s was a sophisticated copy of Canaletto’s The Bucintoro Returning to the Molo on Ascension Day depicting the great Venetian vessel of state which was used each year to carry the doge out into the Adriatic to perform the symbolic ‘marriage’ ceremony between Venice and the sea.

The original painting, owned by Britain’s first ‘prime’ minister Sir Robert Walpole, sold in 1993 at Ader-Tajan in Paris for FR66m (around £7.59m) – a record at the time for an Old Master on French soil.

Offered for a snip of the price of a Canaletto at £30,000-40,000, the copy had been in a British private collection ‘for many years’ and was last offered at Christie’s in 1967, catalogued as by Canaletto himself.

Although re-lined with some water marks and a little flaking to the edge, it had no signs of any serious overpainting or damage. A fierce contest ensued between a private bidder in the UK and the Italian trade and it sold for £80,000 to the former, a collector bidding on the phone.

Several very similar versions of The Bucintoro Returning… have sold for comparable prices at auction catalogued as by James. Notably in April 2008 at Christie’s New York where one made $270,000 (around £136,000) and in April this year at Hampel in Munich where another was knocked down at €80,500 (around £71,000).

Atmospheric scenery

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Dinant on the Meuse by James Webb – £8000 at Chorley’s.

The prolific 19th century painter James Webb (1825-95) was profoundly influenced by the romantic yet naturalistic paintings of John Constable and JMW Turner and is best known for his atmospheric landscapes and seascapes of England and continental Europe.

But as with other 19th century landscape painters, Webb’s prices have stuttered on the secondary market over the last two decades.

Dinant on the Meuse, a signed 2ft 6in x 4ft 2in (76 x 1.27cm) oil on canvas executed in the artist’s typically pale palette, was offered at Chorley’s with an original bill of sale dated 1949 from Mawson Swan & Morgan, the former fine art dealership and picture frame makers in Newcastle.

It generated decent bidding against a £4000-6000 guide to sell for £8000. The comparable work, Dinant, Belgium (1876), sold at Christie’s London back in 2002 for £7500 (which, adjusting for inflation, would be worth more than £12,000 today).

Marine majesty

Elsewhere, a relined, cleaned and restored oil by the 18th century marine painter Peter Monamy (1681-1749) from a private collection in Gloucestershire got away on bottom estimate for £4000.

Depicting a Dutch fisherman reefing the sails, a French frigate and an English squadron, the 23in x 2ft 11in (60 x 90cm) oil on canvas came in a good gadrooned gilt frame but the surface of the paint was described as “somewhat thin and flat”.

Although Monamy usually depicted actual ships in his paintings, he rarely recorded specific events as much of his career coincided with a long period of peace. Prices of his marine paintings tend to vary widely on the secondary market, from tens of thousands paid for his large-scale commissioned paintings of famous vessels to low four-figure sums for the decorative pictures he produced in large numbers specifically for commercial galleries and dealers.

Company School

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One of 75 Anglo Indian watercolours in a Company School album from Patna – £6000 at Chorley’s.

Completing the picture highlights at Chorley’s was a mid-19th century Company School album containing around 75 Anglo-Indian watercolours on typical themes such as botanical, architectural, ornithological and trades. A note pasted verso read: An old man with his son a most excellent painter, his pieces about 12 Rupees one dozen on? but most excellently done, the best artist at Patna. Done for Capt. Edward Inge, 4th Light Dragoons.

The city of Patna in north-east India was one of the major centres of Company painting, being home to many British expatriates who wanted images to send or take home. This album was knocked down on low estimate for £6000.