A painting which captured the human drama of the “miracle of Dunkirk” astounded auction bidders in Perth when it soared way beyond initial expectations and sold for £26,000.
It had a modest pre-sale estimate of £1,200 but auctioneer Nick Burns had an inkling that it could do better and he was proved spectacularly right.
Painted by John Spencer Churchill, the nephew of the wartime Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, he was an eye witness to the dramatic events of May 29, 1940, as one of the soldiers evacuated.
A hastily-assembled flotilla of 800 boats managed to get 338,000 soldiers home safely over eight days and Dunkirk came to symbolise the spirit of the British nation at the time, though as Sir Winston noted “wars are not won by evacuations”.
“It was a brilliant result, the vendor was delighted, they could not believe it,” said Mr Burns of the sale to a private buyer.
“I think it ticked a lot of boxes – the provenance was good, the subject is poignant and strikes a chord with all generations and the scale, detail and link to Churchill all helped.
“It was a good lot, you just do not see something like this come on the market that often and when they do, the interest is always there.”
The story behind the picture – Mr Spencer Churchill went to Downing Street to plead in vain with his uncle to send more planes to Dunkirk – added to the appeal of the picture despite the horror of the scene.
“The troops were being machine-gunned from the air by dive-bombers,” remembered the artist.
“Lots of people I knew never got to the ships at all. They were killed in the water or drowned as they waited.”
It was the highest price paid at the two-day sale at Lindsay Burns and Company, King Street, Perth, but there were a number of other highlights.
Two bottles of vintage spirits — one of rum and another of chartreuse — made £8,500 which Mr Burns put down to their being “rare survivors” and two bottles Persse’s liqueur whisky, which came from the same house as the other bottles, fetched £2,400.
Other highlights included a Persian rug (£10,500), a Qing dynasty Chinese table (£13,000), a portrait of a woman crocheting by John “Spanish” Phillip (£8,400) and a pair of Chinese Qing dynasty vases (£4,500).