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Four elongated bird oils by Royal Academician Henry Stacy Marks (1829-98), possibly commissioned by his principal patron Hugh Grosvenor, First Duke of Westminster, drew keen bidding in Essex.

The paintings of a crane and three storks sold for £16,000 in an interiors sale at Sworders (23% buyer’s premium) of Stansted Mountfitchet on December 5, against an estimate of £8000-12,000.

Species such as these held a particular fascination for Marks, especially adjutant storks, which he observed in London Zoo and featured in his well-known diploma work Science is measurement.

In later years, his keen interest in ornithology took on greater importance in his life and he concentrated increasingly on bird subjects, moving away from the Shakespearean and medieval themes that had dominated his earlier career.

Today, Marks’ most famous work is A Select Committee, which depicts chattering parrots and macaws perched in an aviary. It is now in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.

Rare birds

On the secondary market, these later decorative bird subjects executed in oils are harder to come by, with the set at Sworders bringing the highest price for a bird-related lot, according to the Art Sales Index. (His earlier paintings still hold the upper hand in terms of prices on the secondary market.)

The group was consigned from the collection of art and antiques owned by television antiques expert and former Sotheby’s chairman Tim Wonnacott. Before this, they had hung at the New Brunswick home in Canada of the late prominent philanthropist, Marcia Anastasia Cristoforides, who married Max Aitken, first Baron Beaverbrook.

Most intriguing to collectors was the possible link to the Grosvenor commission for Eaton Hall in Cheshire, where Marks worked on the decorations between 1874-80.

This included 12 panels of birds for the drawing room. The panel shape of the elongated group, the largest measuring 4ft 6in x 2ft 3in (1.38m x 68cm), was noted in the catalogue as emphasising “the height of the birds and lends them an almost aesthetic movement feel”.

Bird paintings by Marks were recorded as forming part of the surplus contents sold off in 1960 when much of the hall was demolished to make way for the current building.

Madox Brown commission

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The Holy Family with John the Baptist by Ford Madox Brown – £7800 at Sworders.

Elsewhere in the Sworders sale was a recently identified oil by Ford Madox Brown (1821-93) of the Holy Family with John the Baptist. Executed in 1864 and probably commissioned for a presbytery, the signed 4ft 3in x 2ft 10in (1.3m x 87cm) oil on canvas had formed part of a collection of European art owned by American businessman Henry Audesse which was sold by Massachusetts auction house John McInnis in 2016.

That sale was offered on the premises of Audesse’s 30-room Georgian-style mansion at Wenham on Boston’s north shore in Massachusetts, with this painting catalogued as Venetian School (18th c) Holy Family Oil and selling for $3000 (£2270). A year later, it cropped up at Maine saleroom James D Julia with a full attribution to Brown and sold for a premium-inclusive $3630 (£2840).

On a hasty return to auction this side of the pond, it did rather better at Sworders and got away just below bottom estimate for £7800.

Prolific Maltese artist

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Mary Magdalene on Christ’s Tomb by Giuseppe Cali – £6700 at Sworders.

Maltese artist Giuseppe Cali (1846-1930) drew attention in Stansted Mountfitchet with two works in the sale.

Cali was a prolific painter whose works appear in many of Malta’s churches. Regarded as one of the country’s greatest artists, he was commemorated with a series of four postage stamps in 1996 and a coin in 2004.

The more expensive of the two works at Sworders had been in the collection of Chevalier Antonio Cassar Torreggiani, one of Malta’s leading 20th century industrialists.

Depicting Mary Magdalene mourning at Christ’s tomb, the 14in x 2ft (35 x 60cm) oil on canvas had been exhibited at the Malta Art Association centenary exhibition in 1946. It was contested beyond the £600-800 estimate to £6700.

The other work, a smaller 8 x 12in (21 x 31cm) oil on canvas of a stormy coast, made £2800 against a £150-250 guide.

A pair of typical 19th century views of Antwerp and Bruges by French landscape painter Charles Euphrasie Kuwasseg (1838-1904) drew eager bidding. Both signed and dated 1874, the 3ft x 2ft 5in (92 x 73cm) oil on canvases took £10,500 against a £6000-8000 estimate.