Estimated at £10,000-15,000 at the sale in London on April 29, it drew a bidding battle between trade, private and institutional bidders from the UK, US and Europe and was eventually knocked down at £74,000 (£92,500 with premium) to an anonymous buyer.
The price surpassed the previous auction record for the artist that had stood for 22 years: £70,000 for The Merry-Go-Round sold at Phillips in 2000, a work from 1924 with a contrasting subject.
The 19½ x 23½in (49 x 60cm) oil on canvas at Lyon & Turnbull, titled The Long Range Bombardment of Dunkirk, was an eyewitness account from the coastal city in northern France from 1918.
A conscientious objector on the outbreak of the war, Procter had joined The Friends’ Ambulance Unit as a means for civilians to contribute to the war effort in a non-violent way.
In this painting he recorded the major German offensive from March 20-23 as shelling from a gun sited 20 miles outside the city prompted residents – both soldiers and civilians – to flee.
Worked up from notes and sketches made on the spot, it depicts the havoc caused as refugees and members of the military stream away from Dunkirk as the city burns in the background.
Having recently emerged from a private collection, it had long been thought to depict Ypres until research by L&T uncovered an article about Ernest and his artist wife Dod Procter in Colour magazine from April 1919 which singled out the current picture for extensive praise.
The auction house described the work as a “long-lost acclaimed piece” and bidders admired its vibrant colour, great detail and, crucially, the historical interest.