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'Le Moulin à café' (The coffee grinder), a drawing by Francois Bonvin – £28,000 at Parker Fine Art Auctions.

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The consignment from a deceased estate was offered as a live webcast auction on March 19 and, with all 300 lots sold, it raised a hammer total of £406,000 (plus 25% buyer’s premium).

The works had been collected from leading dealers over a 50-year period and were largely in good condition and came nicely framed. Since their previous owner had never bought for investment, they were priced to sell at Parker Auctions with most estimates set at only a few hundred pounds.

The lowly pitched lots included an impressive selection of 19th century and earlier works on paper which drew strong interest from the UK and European trade.

French Realism

Leading the day were two chalk drawings by François Bonvin (1817-87), the French Realist painter who exhibited at the Paris Salon from 1847.

Both works – listed in Gabriel Weisberg’s 1980 catalogue raisonné of the artist’s drawings and watercolours – demonstrated his skill as a draughtsman and championing of unpretentious subjects. These were rated among the most desirable drawings by Bonvin to have emerged in the last 10 years.

First up was Le Moulin à café (The coffee grinder), a 6 x 8¼in (15 x 21cm) signed black chalk drawing from 1879 that had provenance to the French writer and cultural campaigner Georges Pillement.

The previous owner had purchased it from London dealer Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox and here it was estimated at £2000-3000. After a lengthy competition, with interest emerging both online and on the phone, it sold at £28,000.

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'Le Serrurier' (The Locksmith), also by Bonvin – £32,000 at Parker Fine Art Auctions.

The following lot, another signed but earlier chalk drawing from 1858 titled Le Serrurier (The Locksmith) also drew keen interest against a £3000-5000 estimate.

A well-observed figurative study, it had featured in a number of exhibitions including one dedicated to French Realist art at Cleveland Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum in 1980-81. It sold at £32,000 to a dealer who bid online via thesaleroom.com and described it as “exceptional”.

Other than Le bougeoir (The candlestick) from 1872, which sold for $70,000 (£35,780) at Sotheby’s New York in May 2008, these appear to be the highest sums for Bonvin drawings at auction.