Estimated at £4000-6000, it easily surpassed its guide on March 16, selling at £22,000.
Acquired by the vendor from a private collector in Malta, the unsigned 2ft 5in x 5ft 4in (74 cm x 1.64m) oil on canvas was described by the auction house as a “rebuke to English imperialism and occupation”.
Titled British Gold Explores the Mediterranean, it shows five young girls – thought to represent the artist’s daughters – sailing a clamshell filled with the spoils of war while the Royal Navy beats a hasty retreat. The girls carry a ripped British ensign and a trident among their haul.
Cali painted the work decades before Malta was granted independence in 1974.
The artist is one of Malta’s most prolific: it is said that almost every church on the island boasts a work by him.
Despite his fame, few pictures come on the market. One of the last works by Cali to sell in a UK saleroom was at Bonhams in November 2015, when a portrait of a British army officer’s grey charger made £9500.
The sale also achieved £15,000 for a signed 20in x 2ft 1in (52 x 63cm) oil on canvas by Ivan Fedorovich Choultsé (1874-1939). The Russian landscape realist painter, who emigrated to France, is eagerly collected in his home country. Estimated at £8000-12,000, Olive Grove with Sunlight in Foreground achieved a mid-range price for the artist.