Portrait with links to famous American dynasty sells for £7,000 at auction

18/03/2016     Pictures

A portrait of a gentleman from a famous political dynasty attracted Anglo-American bidding as it sold above estimate for £7,000 at auction this week.

The oil on canvas portrait, attributed to Joseph Highmore (1692-1780), is believed to be either Lancelot Lee (1719-‘59) or Thomas Lee (1690-1750), a member of the aristocratic Virginian family that also produced Robert E. Lee, Confederate General in the American Civil War.

Attracting keen interest from both sides of the Atlantic, the portrait eclipsed its pre-sale estimate of £5,000 to sell to a London bidder who held off American rivals in our fine art £200,000 pictures, silver and jewellery auction.

The picture originally hung at Coton Hall, Alveley, Shropshire, the ancestral home of the Lee family. The property passed out of the Lee family in 1821 but the portrait remained in the drawing room there until at Coton Hall was sold in 1985.

After extensive research in the UK and with the Lee family in Virginia, our picture specialist James Forster identified two potential sitters as the portrait’s subject namely Lancelot Lee of Coton Hall, the eldest son of Sir Eldred Lancelot Lee and his wife Isabella (1690-1767) or Thomas Lee, president of the Colony of Virginia and builder of Stratford Hall, Virginia, in the 1730s.

“The Lee family were great patrons and friends of Joseph Highmore who painted them many times, including the ambitious group portrait which hung in the drawing room at Coton Hall and now resides in the Wolverhampton Museum,” said Mr Forster.

“Thomas Lee’s son Richard was one of the signatories on the Declaration of Independence and the Confederate General Robert E. Lee was a direct descendent.

“Thomas’ grandfather, Colonel Richard Lee, founded the Lee family in Virginia when he emigrated from Shropshire in 1639. As distant cousins, Lancelot and Thomas Lee corresponded to each other at least once and there is a recorded letter from Lancelot dated May 21, 1745.

“It is believed that Thomas travelled to England twice around 1715 and it is possible that he could have met and sat for Joseph Highmore on one of those trips. Highmore was a very significant artist and painted many of the prominent people across Europe at that time.

“It was a very interesting picture with a fascinating back story, which captured the attention of the Lee family in Virginia. Despite American bidding, the portrait sold to a London bidder and I was pleased with the price achieved.”

Probably the biggest surprise of the auction came in the form of a collection of five 19th century printing plates after George Richmond, which were keenly contested by three bidders who elevated the final price for £11,000.

The collection comprised a copper plate of The Good Shepherd, a steel plate portrait of Mrs Richmond, inscribed Mrs Ann Richmond, Born 1st Aug 1772, died 30th Dec 1860, a copper plate inscribed masaccio, a steel plate inscribed Faraday, 27 Mar 1852 and a copper plate portrait of a gentleman.

“The Good Shepherd was one of Richmond’s signature works and it demonstrates the influence William Blake had on the ‘Ancients’, a group of artists who gathered around Blake in the last years of his life up to his death in 1827,” said said Mr Forster. “George Richmond was a leading member of this group and the copper plate was very rare and collectable.”

A 19th century view of Florence in Italy by Antonietta Brandeis (1849-1910), titled ‘The Piazza Santa Maria Novella’, sold for £9,500, an oil on canvas of a terrier with her puppies by prolific animal painter George Armfield (1808-1893) sold to a private buyer for £5,000 and a watercolour and gouache of L’Arc de Triomphe by Parisian artist Eugene Galien Laloue (1854-1941) sold for £4,400.

Oil landscape paintings also sold well, with a pair by Walter J. Watson (1879-1979) of the Rivers Lledr and Llugwy in North Wales making £3,200 and cattle watering in a stream by William Sidney Cooper (1854-1927) making £2,200.

An ink and wash work heightened with white by American illustrator and cartoonist Peter Arno (1904-‘68) raced away from its estimate to sell
for £2,000, a watercolour over pencil portrait of the family of Sir Arthur James Rugge-Price, 5th Baronet (1808-’92) by Anton Hahnisch (1817-’97) was purchased by a descendant for £1,800 and the same price was paid for an oil of Robin Hood’s Bay, Yorkshire by Thomas Rose Miles (1869-1906).

Mr Forster said he was delighted with the auction result, which again demonstrated the strong demand for good quality paintings by noted artists.

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