17th century oil portrait by Suffolk artist sells for £100k at auction

An oil portrait by the 17th century Bury St Edmunds artist Mary Beale, which has sold at auction for £100,000.

An oil portrait by the 17th century Bury St Edmunds artist Mary Beale, which has sold at auction for £100,000. - Credit: Reeman Dansie

The work of 17th century Bury St Edmunds artist Mary Beale has received a new record offer after one of her oil portraits sold at auction for £100,000.

The oil portrait, believed to be of her son Batholomew Beale, sold for £100,000 to an internet bidder on Wednesday.

The portrait was the top lot in a two-day auction by Reeman Dansie Auctioneers in Colchester, which exceeded sales of £600,000. The auction was only anticipated to reach £200,000. 

Mary Beale was one of only a small number of female artists working professionally in London during her day and she is believed to be England's first professional female painter. 

Born in Barrow, Suffolk, in 1633 and the daughter of a clergyman, she studied under the portraitist Sir Peter Lely and, as her reputation grew, by the 1670s her work was in considerable demand.

As well as being one of the first, she was also one of the most successful portrait painters of the late 17th century. Some of her paintings are included in the collection at Moyse’s Hall Museum in Bury.

Daniel Wright, associate director at the auction house, said: "This trumps Mary Beale's previous world record of £75,000.

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"We had eight phone bidders and lots of internet bidders from all over the world trying to secure the portrait. The price started at £24,000 and the final bid was an online bidder."

The online auction also included a 15th century Chinese imperial cinnabar lacquer box which sold for £95,000.

Mr Wright said they were slightly nervous about holding the sale given the current climate, but they were pleasantly surprised by the amount of bidders. 

He said: "This may be symptomatic of lockdown as people have more time to spare. It was a very successful sale."

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