A Robert Neill oil painting in untouched condition that spent the last 15 years in a plastic bag and which was initially valued at £100 has sold for £10,000 at auction.
The discovery was made when a resident of Wansbeck, Northumberland brought the picture of a house in Van Diemen’s Land - now known as Tasmania - to auctioneers Anderson and Garland in Newcastle.
Although the 1825 date seemed initially unremarkable, when specialists researched the artist’s name and inscription on the back of the picture, it soon became clear the painting had been created just 55 years after Captain Cook discovered Australia, making it a significant historical artefact.
Born in Edinburgh, Neill was an early settler in Van Diemen’s land, working as an employee of the British Army’s Commissariat and painting in his own time. The unique work of art captures the early days of the British colonialisation of Australia.
The painting subsequently became the subject of a bidding war between a bidder from Tasmania in the show room and eight telephone lines to Australia. An Australian dealer eventually secured the painting.
Senior specialist at Anderson and Garland Steven Moore said: “As soon as I began to look into the artist, it became clear that he was a well known figure, particularly associated with early topographical views of Tasmania, or Van Diemen’s Land as it was known then. We therefore revised our marketing and began to contact prospective clients in Australia.
“Whilst 1825 seems fairly recent from a British perspective, 1825 is only 55 years after Captain Cook discovered Australia. Understandably, the vendor is delighted with the result.”
The painting depicts a long lost early house, ‘Mount Morriston’ which was the home of George Scott. The Scott’s were originally a Borders family and a book covering the correspondence of George Scott to his brother has been published.
Although the panel has been inscribed by Robert Neill as ‘Huon Pine Tree’, research in Australia has suggested that it is, in fact, ‘King Billy Pine’, another native species.
Andrew McCoull, managing director of Anderson and Garland, said: “I’m delighted to see another success for one of our vendors, showing that our careful research and marketing can achieve the very best prices.”
Neill was recalled to Britain in 1848 and appointed to the Windward and Leeward Islands in the West Indies. He served as assistant commissary-general until September 1852 when he, his wife and four children, died in Barbados of yellow fever.