Dating from 1830 and monogrammed to the lower left, the 5¼ x 4½in (13 x 11cm) watercolour, which was heightened with white and bodycolour, had remained in the artist’s family before later appearing at Sotheby’s back in 1977.
It then ended up with dealer Colnaghi, from where the vendor had acquired it.
The picture which was offered at the South Cerney auction house Dominic Winter (20% buyer’s premium) in the picture sale on October 19 was executed just before the artist’s elopement with Julia Tatham, an event that forced him to turn to the ‘more mundane’, but more lucrative, occupation of portraiture.
A Sleeping Wayfarer was billed as a work from the early period of Richmond’s career. The artist was famously precocious, enrolling at the Royal Academy at the age of 15 and helping to form the artists’ group ‘The Ancients’ not long afterwards.
The group was greatly inspired by William Blake and included artists such as Samuel Palmer, Frederick Tatham and Edward Calvert.
Sharing ideas about communal living and a nostalgia for an idealised rural past, some members took up the practice of wearing of special revivalist costume, including Palmer in particular.
Two portraits of Palmer by Richmond now in the National Gallery collection show him in such garb. Both works have some similarity to the current work including the figure’s long hair, beard and facial expression. Could it be that the watercolour therefore depicted Palmer himself?
This possibility seemed to help the work commercially as, against a £4000-6000 estimate, it was bid to £9500 at the Gloucestershire saleroom. While Richmond watercolours have certainly made more, this was a notable price per square inch.