The story begins in the late 1980s when the artist Denise Manning (20th century British school) was commissioned by The Rare Breeds Survival Trust to paint all the rare farm breeds of UK cattle.
The artist, who married a farmer, was used to working on a farm herself and the resulting collection for the cattle project was exhibited at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) in Exeter.
One of the paintings that she made of a rare breed of English longhorns was painted at a farm in Tregony, Cornwall, where the farmer, John Warne, spent the day helping her.
Warne is a highly recognised figure in the agricultural world having judged the livestock five times at The Royal Agricultural Show at Stoneleigh and also been president of the Royal Show.
After its completion, he was keen to buy Manning’s finished work but, much to his disappointment, it was sold by mistake to someone else.
On the look-out
However, many years later, one of Warne’s sons, who has a great interest in the history of the local area, set up an alert on thesaleroom.com to receive notifications when anything to do with Tregony comes up for auction.
Happily, he was alerted when Manning’s painting was recently consigned to Chilcotts (21% buyer’s premium) of Honiton, Devon, where it was offered with a £150-200 estimate on July 17.
After the family decided to bid on the 2ft x 3ft (61cm x 92cm) signed oil on canvas, they were able to secure it at a £300 hammer price – seemingly the highest of the small number of auction results recorded for Manning’s works.
“We were thrilled when we heard the back story and met Kalen, one of Mr Warne’s grandsons who came to collect the painting,” said Elizabeth Chilcott of the auction house. “Mr Warne is now 85 and is delighted to have his cows back!
“We learned from the family that the cow at the top right of the picture was a prize winner for her breed at the Royal Show in 1991.
“After the show, John sold her to another breeder for the princely sum of 3000 guineas.”