It was offered on April 20 at Wotton Auction Rooms (18% buyer’s premium) in Gloucestershire.
Features such as the curls of the sitter’s hair and the meaningful sideways glance were not unlike those found in other works by the Scottish artist (including a few self-portraits). It was thought this could be a preliminary study for a larger work from c.1760 and so was catalogued as ‘attributed to Allan Ramsay’ and offered with a £3000-5000 estimate.
Somewhat curiously, the 18½ x 15in (47 x 38cm) painting was housed in a frame constructed from a mahogany drawer and with a gilt slip to the side. This was probably the result of it having once been set within the drawer of a larger cabinet, perhaps used to file a group of such works. The work suffered from two holes but fortunately the main areas were in stable condition.
The vendor had a distant connection to the Dukes of Argyll and, although it was long forgotten how it had been acquired, the picture was thought to have been in their family for a long time.
Intriguingly the vendor also owned a copy of the 1784 inventory of Horace Walpole’s collection at Strawberry Hill (it sold for £720 along with another catalogue at the Wotton sale). Marked with notations and prices achieved, one of the entries referred to a group of paintings including works by Ramsay.
Whether or not this picture had ever been part of the great Strawberry Hill collection which was later dispersed in 1842, it drew strong interest at the April 19 auction.
A small number of bidders contested it on the day, although the saleroom felt that a few more parties were probably preparing to bid before the price rose beyond a certain level.
It eventually came down to a battle between two London galleries, selling to one of them that was bidding via thesaleroom.com, at £13,300.
It will now be interesting to see how well the work might restore and whether a sitter may be identified.