'Italian master' painting valued at £50 sells for £160,000 at Norfolk auction

The painting carried an estimate of £50-80 but sold for £160,000.
Credit: TW Gaze
The painting - described as being in a late Renaissance style - was listed with an estimate of £50-80. Credit: TW Gaze

An oil painting which had been expected to sell for about £50 has fetched £160,000 at auction.

The unframed work by an unknown artist was sold at TW Gaze's Friday morning sale at its auction house in Diss in Norfolk, where it was listed in the catalogue with an estimate of £50-80.

But art lovers watched amazed as the price kept rising, fuelled by international telephone and online bids, creeping slowly into six figures and then accelerating until the winning bid of £160,000 was made.

With auctioneers' fees included, the final bill for the new owner will top £200,000.

The auction house said the seller - who has yet to be told - was from Suffolk but had "no expectations as to the merits of the painting".

Antiques enthusiast Ian Honeyman, who was involved in the early bidding, said the painting had caught his eye in the catalogue and thought it showed promise - but admitted he had no idea the bidding would reach those heights.

  • Ian Honeyman describes the excitement in the auction room as the bidding intensified

He said he suspected it was a painting by an "Italian master" and could be worth even more than its sale price once it has been restored.

The auction house described the painting as being in a late-Renaissance style.

"I would expect that it would turn up in a London auction house like Bonhams where it could go for over £1m," Mr Honeyman told ITV News Anglia.

"I saw this painting and thought that it looked really interesting: it's got a good age to it, it's well painted, good subject matter - the Madonna and child - so I thought I'd try to buy it for its £50-80 estimate.

"Like a lot of people I popped down and was very, very surprised when the prices started to get into the tens of thousands," said Mr Honeyman, who set his own bidding limit at £200.

"It's very exciting for the seller, who may have had it under his or her bed for many years and didn't think it had any value," he added.

In the catalogue, the 78cm x 64cm painting is described as "a 19th-century oil on canvas depicting mother and child".

It is not known who the true artist is suspected to be.

The find is not the first surprising artistic find to be made in the county this year - in May, a man clearing out his family home was stunned when he discovered his parents had a rare painting worth an estimated £50,000 hanging barely noticed for decades.

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