Painting bought for just £735 by Hartlepool colonel set to sell for £700,000

Pensive by Sir John Everett Millais.
Pensive by Sir John Everett Millais.

A Victorian oil painting bought for just £735 by one of Hartlepool’s richest men is now set to fetch around £700,000 at an auction.

The picture – titled Pensive – was one of two paintings by Sir John Everett Millais bought by Colonel John Cameron in 1895 for a bargain £1,470, after Cameron successfully negotiated a £210 discount on the £1,680 Millais originally demanded for the paintings.

Colonel Cameron, who founded Camerons Brewery and who was also Mayor of Hartlepool in 1889-1890, was an astute businessman and although he could easily afford Millais’s asking price, he could not resist a haggle and sought advice from an artist friend named Arthur Stockdale Cope.

In August 1895, Cope wrote to Cameron, who lived at Stranton: “I thought you’d like those two pictures. I had to go & see Millais on other matters just before I left & was glad to have another look at them. He (Millais) is a very big man. I heard Leighton (artist Lord Leighton) say that he was head and shoulders above any painter of his time or century.

“I rather doubt if you would get those two pictures for 1,200 (1200 guineas,or £1,260). If I were you I would not offer less than 1,400 gs (1400 guineas,or £1,470) for the pair,as he might decline altogether. He knows they are worth more – or will be – than the 800 (800 guineas or £840) he is asking apiece.”

Now Colonel Cameron’s treasured Millais picture, Pensive, is expected to sell for between £600,000 and £800,000 at Christie’s in London on June 16.

This year marks the 120th anniversary of Colonel Cameron’s acquisition of the painting and also marks the 150th anniversary of Colonel Cameron founding Camerons Brewery in 1865. It also marks the sixtieth anniversary of Camerons’ launching their famous ruby red bitter,Strongarm.

Millais and Colonel Cameron died within a few weeks of each other in 1896, the year after Colonel Cameron bought the Millais paintings.

Millais died on August 13,1896. Colonel Cameron was only fifty five when he died on December 28,1896.When Colonel Cameron died he left £342,535 nine shillings and threepence,or £342,535.46p in modern money.

That was when a pint of Camerons beer cost tuppence,or two old pennies,or less than 1p in modern money.