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The first was a half-length portrait of Lord Robert Spencer based on Joshua Reynolds’ original portrait at Blenheim Palace. The portrait came from the property of the late Victor, 3rd Viscount Churchill (1934-2017), a line of the Churchill family descended from the Dukes of Marlborough and related to Sir Winston Churchill.

Offered in Bonhams’ Private Collections sale in Knightsbridge on October 3, the 2ft 5in x 2ft 1in (76 x 64cm) oil on canvas sold for £25,000, over eight times its top guide.

The sitter was the third son of Charles, 3rd Duke of Marlborough, a keen art collector and a member of Brooks’s Club where Reynolds was also a member.

Bonhams director and head of house sales Charlie Thomas said the “fierce bidding was fuelled by the great provenance… with many commenting on its atmospheric qualities and the sitter’s thoughtful expression”.

Having the original in Blenheim Palace, which is well known to many, also helped, he added.

Sombre subject

The second picture offered a week before, in a sale of 19th century pictures at Bonhams’ New Bond Street saleroom, was a sombre 11¾in x 2ft (30 x 61cm) oil on panel by William Blake Richmond (1842-1921).

The Watchers came directly from the family of Edmund Verney, one of the artist’s most loyal patrons who bought the picture for £110 in 1879.

Painted c.1875, the oil shows three angels surrounding a corpse in a shroud.

The art historian Simon Reynolds noted in the catalogue that he believed the corpse to be Richmond’s wife Charlotte, who had died in his arms from tuberculosis a decade before, while the angels were depictions of the Pre-Raphaelite model Gaetano Meo.

Cautiously guided at £15,000-20,000, it soared to £58,000 where it was knocked down to the London trade against competition from several phones.

Bonhams director and head of sale Peter Rees described the painting as “a wonderful and rare work by Richmond, a real masterpiece of Symbolism”.

After the sale, he added: “Much of the works which come up for auction by the artist are portraits and we always felt the painting may exceed the estimate, but we tempered our expectations because of the condition of the work, which did show some cracks and losses to the paint surface.

“However, the bidders were satisfied that the work could be successfully restored, which led to some fierce competition.”