The 3ft 8in x 4ft 6in (1.11 x 1.38m) oil on canvas attributed to Willem van de Velde the Younger (1633-1707) had descended through the family of the founder of Christie’s until 1997. It was thought to depict the London at the Battle of the Texel in August 1673, a naval clash during the Third Anglo-Dutch War.
The late Michael Robinson, keeper of pictures at the National Maritime Museum, London, had described the painting as “a work substantially by the Younger van de Velde”, but, as is often the case, it was thought there may have been studio participation in incidental elements of the background.
However, the market responded well against the attractive pitch of £60,000-80,000 and it was knocked down to a phone bidder at £220,000.
Romney bidding battle
Elsewhere at the sale, a bidding battle also came for a double-sided work on paper by George Romney (1734-1802).
The pen, brown ink and brown wash drawing on the front, Cimon and Iphigenia, was the main attraction. The back featured an unfinished sketch titled Three Lapland Witches.
The figure of Iphigenia features in other known Romney drawings including examples in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and Princeton University Art Museum, although this example was the most extensively worked up.
Although no finished painting is known to relate to this sketch, interestingly the catalogue noted that in the 1780s Romney began using Emma Hart (later Lady Hamilton) as a model for female figures from Greek mythology – and featured her as Iphigenia in a 1790 painting.
Whether she was the inspiration for the figure in the present sketch was difficult to discern but against a £20,000-30,000 guide the lot drew a flurry of bids. It was taken up to £70,000 at which point the gavel fell – an auction record for a work on paper by the artist.
Overall, the sale on December 17 raised a total of £2.02m with 45 of the 86 lots sold (52%).