LONDON, ENGLAND - A PAINTING by French artist Jean-Antoine Watteau presumed lost and unseen by the public for almost 200 years fetched US$24.4 million (S$33.3 million) at auction on Tuesday, as the art market continued to shrug off growing economic gloom.
Christie's said the amount, around three times expectations, was a record for any French old master painting at auction.
La Surprise, depicting a musician tuning his guitar as he sits next to an amorous couple, was considered by its owners to be a copy until the auctioneer spotted it when called in to evaluate the contents of a British country house.
Art experts had only known about the painting, made in around 1718, by a copy in the Royal Collection at Buckingham Palace and through a contemporary engraving.
'It was extremely exciting to have rediscovered the painting last year, its whereabouts having been a mystery for almost 200 years,' said Mr Richard Knight, international director of Christie's old master department.
Earlier in the day, three sketches by Spanish master Goya, also presumed lost for more than 130 years, went under the hammer for US$7.9 million, double the pre-sale estimate.
The drawings, also auctioned by Christie's, were last recorded at a Paris sale of works by the artist in 1877 and all come from Goya's celebrated private albums.
They were sold from a Swiss private collection and were in 'exceptional' condition because they were never framed or exposed to light.
The top lot of the three was Down They Come, from album D called Witches and Women, depicting four women fighting as they fly through the air. It fetched US$4.5 million, a world record at auction for a Goya work on paper.
Next was Repentance, representing a seated man praying before a cross, which raised US$1.9 million, and finally The Constable Lampinos Stitched Inside a Dead Horse (US$1.5 million).
Goya outlines the story of Lampinos at the bottom of the drawing, explaining how an unpopular and corrupt official was stitched inside a dead horse by local people as punishment.
According to the inscription, he survived the night, but in a subsequent drawing by Goya, now at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, he was eventually killed when they pinned him down and injected him with lime using a giant syringe.
Rival auction house Sotheby's this week offers Portrait of Willem van Heythuysen by Frans Hals, expected to make US$6 million to US$10 million, and a painting by British master JMW Turner with a pre-sale estimate of US$10 million to US$14 million. -- REUTERS