The 2ft 6in x 2ft (75cm x 62cm) oval oil on canvas which was offered at the saleroom in Washington, West Sussex, on February 16 depicted Lady Laetitia Beauchamp-Proctor (née Johnson) and was dated to c.1780. The painting had been in the vendor’s family ever since it was painted, the sitter being a direct ancestor of the owner’s late husband.
The attribution to Kauffman was made sometime before 1915 when it was in the possession of Rev Sydney C Beauchamp. A letter written in 1915 by him describes that he had fallen on hard times and was prepared to sell the painting to his cousins for £50 on the proviso that he had the option to buy it back if his fortunes improved. Evidently they did not and the painting remained in his cousin’s family until the recent sale.
“I was immediately struck by the quality of the painting when I saw it at the client’s home,” said Toovey’s fine art consultant Tim Williams. “I thought it had some compositional similarities to Kauffman’s work, but my gut reaction was that it was by Romney.”
He initially contacted the Kauffman scholar Dr Professor Wendy Wassyng Roworth who felt the treatment of the subject was not quite right for Kauffman and also suggested Romney as the artist. He then wrote to Alex Kidson, an authority on Romney, who confirmed the attribution, pointing to the date it was executed being recorded in Romney’s ledgers along with the cost of framing as supporting evidence. According to the ledgers, Lady Beauchamp-Proctor had seven sittings with Romney in July and August 1780, with the 18-guinea fee paid to the artist in May 1781.
Indeed, the work had been included in Kidson’s catalogue raisonné of the artist but its whereabouts was listed as unknown and the sitter’s identity was conflated with that of her sister.
In terms of its commercial appeal, it had an attractive subject and provenance, as well as being offered fresh to the market all in its favour. It was also in decent condition despite having been relined and cleaned in the mid-20th century. The auction house said only minimal retouching was visible under UV light.
On the day it duly drew interest against a £8000- 12,000 estimate, selling at £22,000 to a bidder in the room – an agent acting on behalf of a local private collector who saw off the trade on the phone.
Although Romney’s grander portraits can certainly make more, the sum here was in the same ballpark as other results for portraits on this scale in an oval format, such as the $38,000 (£27,770) for one depicting ‘Miss Williams’ sold at Christie’s New York last October.