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Surprise sales at 'dramatic' Stansted auction

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A "dramatic" fine interiors sale at Stansted auction house, Sworders, saw an Italian marble bust top £96,000 and a copy of one of George Stubbs' most famous paintings reaching an unexpected price.

The 52cm bust of an emperor had experts guessing over its age with estimates ranging from the 17th century to Roman or Ancient Greek.

It attracted 10 phone bidders, but the buyer, who travelled to Sworders to bid in person, believed it was the head of the Greek god Aristophanes, also known as ‘the father of comedy’. It had been expected to fetch between £3,000-£5,000.

Italian marble bust (16780831)
Italian marble bust (16780831)

'A Horse Affrighted at a Lion' was one of 12 etchings that Stubbs, an English artists best known for his horse paintings, published as a group on May 1 1788 in an effort to promote his work. He was excluded from full membership of the Royal Academy during his lifetime because he was considered a sporting artist. But this work sold for £7,200, surprising auctioneers who had estimated it at £200-£300.

Sworders spokeswoman Lizzie Arkell said the print, glued to its mount, included a typed label reading: 'This picture was presented to Sampson Bennett by Mr Spratt, a fellow of St Catherine's College Cambridge. Mr Bennett had successfully operated upon Mr Spratt's spaniel'.

Something rather different was a large 2.2m wide unholstered Knowle settee with drop ends - one of a handful of lots consigned for sale by Sir Rod Stewart. The hammer fell at£3,750.

George Stubbs painting (16780829)
George Stubbs painting (16780829)

Some of the finest pieces in the sale came from the collection of Baroness Patricia Rawlings at Burnham Westgate Hall, Norfolk. They included a 19th century carved, painted and gilded pine serving table in the manner of Henry Flitcroft, which sold for £9,000. It once formed part of the furnishings of 45 Belgrave Square, London, now The Malaysian Embassy.

There was a near-sell out selection of 30 etchings by Herbert Thomas Dicksee (1862-1942) from the collection of Bryan and Valerie Steele, while the diaries, journals and letters of Lady Anne Cullum (1807-75) of Hardwick House near Bury St Edmunds sold for a combined total of £8,000.

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