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Record price for Dame Eileen Mayo painting

A painting by a well-known British artist, who lived and painted in New Zealand for more than 30 years until her death in 1994, has been sold for a world record price at an auction in Auckland and gifted to the Auckland Art Gallery.

Sea Holly, a surrealist tempera on board by Dame Eileen Mayo, was predicted to bring up to $35,000 at an auction of important, early and rare art at the International Art Centre in Parnell, on Wednesday.

Bidding soon passed the estimated price and it finally sold for $55,400, International Art Centre director Richard Thomson says. The previous world record for a Mayo work was for Lobster Pot, also tempera on board, which Dame Eileen painted in the early 1940s. It sold for $43,200 in 2008 at Deutscher & Hackett, a fine art auction house in Melbourne, Australia.

“Sea Holly was bought by the Ilene and Laurence Dakin Bequest as a gift to the Auckland Art Gallery and the fact that it now has a permanent home in Auckland for everyone to enjoy is quite a coup,” Mr Thomson said.

“This is quite a stunning piece of art. Dame Eileen lived and worked as an artist here for many years and her contribution to the art scene in New Zealand was enormous.”

The painting was once held in the personal collection of British war hero and patron of the arts Sir Edward Beddington-Behrens and his wife, Princess Irina Obolensky. It was most recently held in a private Auckland collection.

Mr Thomson said it was one of Dame Eileen’s finest works of art to be offered for sale in New Zealand and featured a surrealist portrayal of sea holly in flower on a sandy shore with a backdrop of the sky and ocean.

She painted Sea Holly when she was studying at Academie Montmartre in Paris.

Dame Eileen was 87 when she died in Christchurch in 1994. She was born in England and moved to Australia in 1952. She moved to New Zealand 10 years and taught art at the University of Canterbury. She also lived for three years in Dunedin where she worked on an underwater diorama with the Otago Museum.

During her time in New Zealand she designed stamps including the 1969 Cook Bicentenary and 1971 Antarctic Treaty stamps, UNICEF commemorative stamps and three fish stamps in 1970 for the New Zealand Post Office.

She was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire a week before she died.