Local supermarket worker discovers £370,000 Victorian masterpiece

By , 30th June 2016

Local supermarket worker discovers £370,000 Victorian masterpiece

There was auction drama at Gorringes of Lewes on June 21 when a painting by Pre-Raphaelite artist Charles Allston Collins (1828-73) soared beyond expectations to sell for £370,000. It came for sale from a lady who works in the local supermarket. Her late husband, a porcelain restorer, had owned it for many years.

Paintings by Hampstead-born Collins are rare. A friend of both William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais, a promising career began with the exhibition of a small number of highly detailed oils at the Royal Academy in the early 1850s. Perhaps his most famous work, Convent Thoughts now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, was singled out for praise by John Ruskin in 1851 for “its meticulous attention to botanical detail”.

However, a proposal to formally join the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was rejected and by the end of the 1850s Collins had abandoned painting to concentrate on the writing of novels and essays. Many of his pictures were left unfinished. In 1860 he married Charles Dickens’ daughter Kate at Gad’s Hill Place.

This 13.5 x 10in oil on panel, signed and dated 1852, was titled The Thoughts with which a Christian Child should be taught to look on the works of God. It was further inscribed verso in the hand of the artist with a poem reading: Though who hast given my eyes to see and love this sight so fair, give me a heart to find out Thee, and read Thee everywhere by Christian Year.

Despite its devotional undertones, the sensitively observed study of a young girl gazing intently at the blooms of a potted fuchsia, was a highly commercial image. The painting was also in its original arched gilt wood frame and in untouched, if rather dirty, condition. It promised a spectacular clean.

Estimated at £3000-5000 – a sum in keeping with those achieved for the small handful of more minor works by Collins that have appeared for sale at auction – it found many admirers before a bidding came down to a UK private buyer and a London dealer. The former won at £305,000, a price that (with premium added) was just under £370,000.

Gorringes are one of the founders of www.theauction.com – a new search engine hub, portal and auction platform created by three of the top UK auctioneers for their buyers.