Portrait of a boy catalogued as ‘English school c.1900’ – £9800 at Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood.

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One of the strongest competitions came for an arresting portrait of a young boy that was lying unpretentiously among the 1711 lots at the summer sale held at Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood (25% buyer’s premium) in Exeter.

Showing the subject in profile on a plain background wearing a felt hat and smock, it came to the auction on July 13-15 as part of a consignment of a mixed group of pictures.

Unsigned and unframed, as well as suffering from a large vertical tear and several other holes and scratches, it had apparently been stacked away in a dark room for some considerable time. At the sale it was catalogued simply as ‘English school c.1900’ and estimated at £100-200.

However, one of the saleroom’s staff thought it to be of a certain quality and brought it to the attention of the picture department. After a discussion between picture specialists Daniel Goddard and Martin Scadgell it was thought that a price of £1000-2000 would have been more likely but, taking into account the condition, the auctioneers decided there was not much to be gained by revising the estimate to a higher level.

On the day it drew a lengthy phone battle and a winning bid of £9800 was placed by London dealer Rupert Maas.

While William Orpen was one name that cropped up post-sale, Maas told ATG: “It’s wonderful and I don’t care who it’s by, although I have a shrewd idea and it isn’t Orpen.” He added that he suspected it to be by a Newlyn painter.

“Luckily that tear is not near his face and it is in much better condition than it looks.”

‘Hogarthian’ manner


Portrait catalogued as ‘19th century school’ – £15,500 at Chilcotts.

Shortly afterward, an earlier portrait of another young sitter turned heads at Chilcotts(21% buyer’s premium) sale in Honiton, Devon, on July 16.

It came to auction having been kept at Sand House in Sidbury, east Devon, the manor of the Huyshe family since 1560. It was consigned by the family after they had recently sold the property. The picture was thought to be of one of their ancestors who was known affectionately as ‘Aunt Harriet’.

On the back of painting were the words Harriet Waterhouse which was thought to be a reference to the sitter. Other than the fact that she was a member of the Huyshe family, there was little information about her either from the family or uncovered during the saleroom’s research.

The 17¾ x 13¾in (45 x 35cm) oil on canvas was unsigned and, without any record as to who might have painted the portrait, it was catalogued simply as ‘19th century school’, as this this corresponded with Aunt Harriet’s dates, and estimated at £150-200.

However, a number of dealers felt it looked more 18th century in date and, even if opinions were mixed as to the picture’s quality, the subject and style clearly appealed. One dealer who did not bid nevertheless felt it had a certain ‘Hogarthian’ manner about it.

On the day, two London dealers - one online and another in the room - competed strongly for the picture and it was eventually knocked down at £15,500.

Director of the auction house Elizabeth Chilcott told ATG: “The purchaser said that he did not know who had painted it - but we feel that he must have had a pretty strong hunch.”