Portrait of Sir John Dugdale Astley by Robert Antoine Müller – £1900 at Potteries Auctions.

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The auction also included an intriguing Victorian portrait that drew a strong contest against an estimate of just £60-120.

The artist Robert Antoine Müller (c.1821-83) specialised in interior and genre scenes but also produced a few notable portraits including a good copy of Heinrich von Angeli’s famous painting of Benjamin Disraeli. Müller’s copy is still kept in the former prime minister’s home of Hughenden Manor.

While Müller’s works don’t appear often on the market, most of those that have emerged have fetched under £1000, although a couple have fetched more than £3000.

The demand that emerged on November 10-12 at the sale in Stoke-on-Trent was primarily down to the sitter.

The 2ft 9in x 2ft 1in (83 x 64cm) oil on canvas depicted Sir John Dugdale Astley, an English soldier, sportsman, MP and wealthy baronet who had served in the Scots Fusilier Guards, serving in the Crimean War and retiring as a lieutenant-colonel.

Thereafter he took up a range of sports, especially horse racing, shooting and boxing. A distinctive and familiar figure at racecourses, he became renowned for winning and losing large sums of money and was given the nickname ‘the Mate’.

His caricature appeared in Vanity Fair with the title ‘The Literary Mate’ – a reference to the entertaining reminiscences he published under the title of Fifty Years of My Life not long before his death in October 1894. Incidentally, the book contained the first recorded appearance of the phrase ‘like a duck to water’ (which he used in reference to his natural prowess at shooting).

The portrait in Staffordshire was dated 1877. It came to the auction as part of a house clearance and was offered together with a copy of Sir John’s book.

Attracting good interest against the appealing estimate, the bidding took off and the lot was eventually knocked down at £1900 to a UK buyer on

Sensitive study


Portrait of Michael Severne by Sir Herbert James Gunn – £1900 at Bellmans.

Meanwhile, a sensitive head study by Sir Herbert James Gunn (1893-1964) generated demand a few days later at Bellmans (22% buyer’s premium) in West Sussex.

Works by the Scottish artist, who painted landscapes, cityscapes and also a good number of portraits, including members of the royal family, come up fairly often on the market with some good interest recorded in the last few months.

This 16in x 10in (41 x 26cm) signed drawing came from the collection formerly at Shakenhurst Hall in Worcestershire, the home of the Severne family until the property was put on the market back in 2010.

Bellmans has been selling works from the source over the autumn, such as the classical landscape by a ‘follower of Richard Wilson’ that made £9500 on October 11 (see ATG No 2567).

The sitter here was Michael Severne who inherited the estate and ran a successful plastics business from the outbuildings (which folded on his death in 2007).

Gunn’s pencil sketch showed him as a young man and was inscribed with the sitter’s name and dated 27.2.43 to the lower left.

With the sheet in good condition despite some scattered spots, it was given an pitch of just £100-150 at the auction on November 15 in Billingshurst.

With strong interest emerging, it sold at £1900 to a private UK collector. While Gunn’s paintings, especially his larger views of Paris and London, can make strong five-figure sums, the price here was in the top five prices for a drawing by the artist (source: Artprice).

The result was part of a good run of recent results for the artist.

A month earlier at Dreweatts, an oil portrait of a lady wearing green made £8200 hammer against a £3000-5000 estimate, while the day after the Bellmans sale a portrait of George VI made £4500 against a £2000-3000 pitch again at Dreweatts.

Severne at the double


Portrait of Michael Severne by Wilfrid Blunt – £1300 at Bellmans.

Back at Bellmans, another slightly earlier portrait of Michael Severne was on offer at the same November sale. The 20¾ x 14in (53 x 36cm) oil on board by Wilfrid Blunt (1901-87) also came from the Shakenhurst consignment.

It was signed and dated 1940, one year after Blunt painted a portrait of Severne against a striking red background which is now in the Watts Gallery in Compton, Surrey.

The artist was the brother of art historian and spy Anthony Blunt. He studied in Paris before entering the Royal Academy engraving school in 1922. After a spell as art master at Eton College, he then became curator of the Watts Gallery.

His pictures though have rarely appeared at auction and so this portrait was something of a rarity.

Estimated at £300-500, it drew decent competition and was knocked down at £1300, the highest sum so far among the few works that have emerged on the secondary market.