The painting, just 12 ¼ x 9 ½ inches, was cataloged as ’18th Century Italian School’, oil on canvas in a gilt and carved Florentine frame; it carried a modest estimate of £400 – 600. Further, it was notated that “it has been suggested that this portrait depicts Batholomew Beale, the son of Mary Beale, ” and that was all it took to spark enormous interest in the work.
Mary Beale (1633 – 1699) was an English portrait painter, one of just a small group of 17th-century female artists working in London; she became the primary financial provider for her family as she built a reputation for being a talented artist.
As it turned out, it was a work by Mary Beale, and although it had some condition issues, interested buyers were not deterred – early online bidding ran the item up to £20K. When the painting finally came up for sale, eight telephone bidders and several online bidders competed in a four-minute battle. A new auction record was achieved when the hammer struck, closing the deal at £100,000.