'An Academy by Lamplight' from 1769 by Joseph Wright of Derby, a 4ft 2in x 3ft 4in (1.27 x 1.02m) oil on canvas that fetched a record £6.3m at Sotheby’s.

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The running total from the series was £53.6m (including premium) with one day sale still to run, a figure that had already exceeded the £34.6m raised at the equivalent series last year.

The auctions at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonhams all witnessed some keen bidding including the top lot of the series: the atmospheric oil painting An Academy by Lamplight from 1769 by Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-97) that led Sotheby’s evening sale on December 6.

Rare consignment

The appearance of a candlelit subject of this quality, scale and fresh to the market was a rare event.

Estimated at £2.5m-3.5m, it drew strong competition between three bidders and was eventually knocked down to a buyer on the phone at £6.3m, almost double the auction record for the artist.

Christie’s evening sale the following night was a slimmer affair with only 35 lots, but a good proportion produced lively bidding.

The sale was led by an El Greco (1541-1614) devotional painting from the collection of Baltimore collector Stanford Rothschild that was knocked down on the phone at £5.4m.

Bonhams’ sale was led by a gold ground panel of The Crucifixion by the influential Venetian painter Lorenzo Veneziano (1356-79) which took £1.4m (est: £400,000-600,000).