Don Quixote by Júlio Pomar, £23,000 at David Duggleby.

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A native of Lisbon, examples of his early neorealist early works and his later dynamic abstracts can be found in plenty of public galleries across Portugal as well as overseas museums such as the Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium and Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro.

Commercially, his pictures have made six-figure sums on a number of occasions in his homeland but few pictures have ever emerged in the UK.

A rare example appeared, however, at North Yorkshire saleroom David Duggleby (21% buyer’s premium) earlier this spring. It was believed to be the first time a major work by the artist had come up for sale in this country.

Top of staircase

Don Quixote from 1961 came to auction from a vendor whose father was an art dealer and had bought the 2ft 1in x 19¼in (64 x 49cm) oil on canvas in Edinburgh in 1989 for £89.

The vendor’s collection comprised some large Victorian pictures but this striking picture was spotted hanging at the top of the staircase by Duggleby auctioneer and valuer Dominic Cox when he visited the vendor’s Whitby home. Cox commented how saleable he thought it was and the vendor, not being particularly affectionate towards it, agreed to consign it.

Having given an initial verbal valuation of a few thousand pounds, Cox researched the painting and, realising that it might be a significant picture, revised the estimate for the auction and pitched it at £5000-8000 for the sale in Scarborough on March 17.

After the catalogue was published online, significant interest came from a number of parties both in the UK and overseas. On the day, five phone lines were booked (three from Portugal, one from Austria and one from the UK) and the saleroom received a further seven commission bids, the majority from Portugal.

The bidding opened at £7600 and eventually came down to a battle between a Portuguese dealer on the phone, a Portuguese private buyer bidding online and a London-based interior designer also bidding online.

It was eventually knocked down to the latter at £23,000. The price was the highest of the Duggleby sale and established a benchmark for the artist in the UK.

After the gavel fell, the vendor, who had been watching in the room, came up and interrupted the bidding on the next lot to shake Cox’s hand. “I’ve never experienced this in all my years of auctioneering,” Cox told ATG.