15-06-02-2194NE01A Thomas Girtin.jpg
‘St Paul’s Cathedral from St Martin-le-Grand’ by Thomas Girtin sold for £125,000 at Chorley’s of Prinknash Abbey.

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

After a high level of interest before the auction on May 19-20, bidding started above the £6000-8000 estimate at £10,000 and rose quickly, at one point jumping by £20,000. As it reached £100,000, two players were still in contention and it was eventually knocked down to an anonymous buyer at £125,000.

"It's a wonderful thing both from a topographical and historical point of view," said Chorley's director and auctioneer John Harvey who was on the rostrum during the sale. He said that the sum was a house record for a picture although they had sold a Lowry for more when the firm was operating as Bruton Knowles.

The view of a bustling metropolis is taken from St Martin-le-Grand, not far from the house where the artist grew up and where his widowed mother kept a woodturning shop. Girtin alludes to this personal connection in the picture with the shop sign F. Girton, Toy Maker visible on the buildings to the left.

Anglesey Discovery

The auctioneers found the 18½ x 15in (47 x 38cm) watercolour with bodycolour mixed up with a number of engravings and photographs at Plas Gwyn, an impressive Queen Anne house in Anglesey. The frame and glass were broken but luckily the picture was in untouched condition with good colours retained.

Signed in the lower left, the picture was on fibrous hemp-lined paper, typical of Girtin, although here it was fixed to another sheet as well.

Research uncovered that this was one of three known versions of the view by Girtin - one being an unfinished, grey wash drawing now in the Yale Centre for British Art, and the other a watercolour in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Both are thought to date from around 1795.

This new discovery, however, has different figures and details and is the most vividly coloured of the three. A slightly later date of c.1798 has been suggested, something also implied by the high-waisted dress of the fashionable lady in the foreground at the right.

There was a round of applause in the Prinknash Abbey Park saleroom as Harvey knocked down his gavel following a five-minute bidding battle.

The buyer's premium was 18%.