Julia Margaret Cameron’s portrait of Kate Keown – £30,000 at Mellors and Kirk.

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The distinctive pre-Raphaelite portrait studies of pioneering photographer Julia Margaret Cameron have always had a strong following. However, her reputation and value received an extra fillip with the National Portrait Gallery's major exhibition in 2003 and an accompanying monograph by Colin Ford.

This 11 1/2in (29cm) diameter albumen print of the young Kate Keown taken c.1866, which featured in Mellors and Kirk's sale in Nottingham on May 2, has all the key Cameron ingredients.

It is an identified and attractive subject. The Keown sisters were daughters of a Royal Artillery officer stationed at Freshwater Bay, a stone's throw from Cameron's house on the Isle of Wight, which she bought in 1860 and was the base for much of her photographic work. They were frequent models for her over a 12-year period, Kate famously posing for Cameron's Renaissance study Beatrice Cenci.

Mellors and Kirk's portrait is part of a series of life-size heads produced in the spring/summer of 1866 when Cameron acquired a large-format camera with a Dallmeyer lens.

The photograph was part of a last consignment from Sugwas Court, Herefordshire, from which the auctioneers had sold a large volume of furniture in February.

It is thought to have passed down since the 19th century through the Morgan family, from whom the vendor, who lived at Sugwas, was descended. It had been in the attic covered in grime and with spotting to the mount, but the image was in good condition retaining an "intense chocolately tone", according to auctioneer Nigel Kirk.

With all these attractions, the £300-500 estimate always looked lightweight.

So it proved, with pre-sale enquiries from America and bidding on the day from a representative of the book trade and, ultimately, a battle between a phone bidder and the successful buyer taking bids in the room on a mobile phone. The winning bid was £30,000 (plus premium).