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“Adulteress” refugee Julia brings £550,000 boost to United Society’s crisis appeal

Posted on: December 10, 2015 11:42 AM
The painting "A grotto in the Gulf of Salerno, with the figure of Julia, banished from Rome" by Joseph Wright of Derby, fetched £665,000 when it was auctioned in support of the United Society's and Diocese of Europe's work with refugees.
Photo Credit: Sotheby's

[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] A painting of the exiled Julia in a grotto in the Gulf of Salerno has sold at auction for more than five times its estimate, raising in excess of half a million pounds which will be used by the United Society (formerly USPG) and the Diocese of Europe in support of their response to the refugee crisis.

The painting, by the Old Master artist Joseph Wright of Derby, had been estimated to sell for between £100,000 and £150,000; but it sold last night at Sotheby’s London auction house for a total of £665,000. Once commission and the buyer’s premium have been deducted, the United Society will receive around £550,000 which it will use in support of its emergency appeal for the Diocese of Europe.

The painting had been donated to the United Society by 81-year-old Godfrey Meynell, a former High Sheriff of Derbyshire, at the suggestion of his son, also called Godfrey. The painting had been in the family since 1840.

“It’s a fairly awesome picture because of its size and because of the cave,” Mr Meynell told the BBC in an interview before the auction took place. “It’s an original Joseph Wright which my three times great-grandfather received in part exchange for a debt. We will be sad to see it go but proud if it reaches a good price.”

Describing the painting, the United Society said that the artwork “depicts Julia, who historians believe was the granddaughter of Roman Emperor Augustus, and married to Paullus. It is claimed the emperor discovered Julia was having an affair, so he exiled her to the small Italian island of Trimerus. However, an alternative theory suggests Julia was exiled for her part in supporting an attempted revolt against Augustus.”

The director of fundraising and communications for the United Society, the Revd Tim Harford, said that he was “truly lost for words” when he heard of the donation. “The fact that Julia is a refugee makes the donation especially poignant,” he said. “The proceeds will help to restore the lives of refugees who are arriving in Greece having fled persecution and war.”