Auctioneer Derek Biss promised “a little bit of excitement later on” as he oversaw the inaugural antiques sale of 2019 at Greenslade Taylor Hunt’s Taunton saleroom.

The scintillating sale lived up to its billing as no fewer than six phone lines – most representing international buyers - battled for possession of “Fishing village, evening” by Chinese born Singaporean artist Cheong Soo Pieng.

The artist is renowned in Singapore, even among non-art aficionados as his work “Drying Salted Fish” (1978) features on the back of the country’s $50 note.

He was a pioneer of the Nanyang art style, and a driving force in the development of Modernism in visual art in the early 20th Century in Singapore.

The oil on board featured at the Taunton saleroom, which also graced the front of the sale catalogue, was signed and dated and had generated a great deal of pre-sale interest.

This was reflected in the bidding, which opened at an enthusiastic £10,000. The six phone bidders were all keen to re-home the painting, but only one could emerge victorious.

The saleroom remained hushed as the bidding climbed inexorably and broke into a ripple of applause as the hammer came down. The successful buyer paid £23,500 for the artwork – the standout figure in a day of excellent prices.

This was the outstanding performer in a carefully curated 20th Century Design section put together by valuer Simon Rayner.

He said: ”It was a great sale throughout and augurs well for 2019.”

The delighted vendor of the top selling painting admitted afterwards she’d never liked the picture, but clearly her late husband had an eye for good art.

It is only relatively recently that Cheong Soo Pieng’s work has started to take off so the purchase proved a canny investment.

A large Royal Lancastrian lustre vase by Gordon Forsyth for Pilkington was another winning entry. A phone bidder paid £1,230 for the decorative piece.

A dish painted in shades of ruby lustre by Charles Passenger for William De Morgan, which was badly cracked, still drew an enthusiastic response and was bought for £895.

Another 20th Century Design sale will take place on Thursday, July 4. For more information please contact the saleroom on 01823 332525.