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This re-lined, but grubby, painting was part of a consignment of original period furnishings being sold from Castle Green, the spectacular 59-room Massachusetts mansion built in the early 20th century as the summer residence of Chicago industrialist Richard T. Crane, but which, more recently, has been used for private functions and upmarket B & B.

More than one potential bidder spotted that the composition was exactly the same as an engraving of a celebrated long-lost self-portrait by the Bolognese painter, Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, Il Guercino (1591-1666).

This connection was reinforced by the uncanny resemblance - albeit a decade or two on - between the painter in the bottom right-hand corner of this canvas and a fully authenticated self-portrait of a younger Guercino in the collection of the New York dealer Richard Feigen.

The million-dollar question was, of course, whether or not this was the original Guercino self-portrait or a copy derived from the original or the subsequent engraving.

Interest from at least a dozen specialist bidders suggested this was a painting with plenty of potential, the hammer finally falling to what these New England auctioneers cagily described as the "European trade" at $340,000 (£200,000).

All too often, a supposedly spectacular Old Master discovery can turn out to be rather less spectacular - or commercially desirable - than an over-excited trade buyer first thought.

But sometimes great paintings are re-discovered and, if this is the long-lost Guercino self-portrait recorded in the engraving, informed opinion in the London trade suggests it could be worth anything from $5m-10m.

A clearer picture, in every sense, will emerge once this intriguing painting is given a careful clean.

PROSPECTIVE buyers were on much firmer territory with a superb Jan Lievens (1607-1674) Portrait of a Boy in Persian Dress, which was the star lot of Christie's (19.5/12% buyer's premium) June 17 Old Master Paintings sale in New York with an estimate of $1m-1.5m.

It was last seen at auction in December 1990 at Bonhams, where it sold at a record £530,000 ($1m) to the Paris dealer Emmanuel Moatti.

He, in turn sold it to the collector who was selling here at Christie's. The 2ft 2 1/2in x 20 1/2in (67 x 52cm) panel painting was in well-preserved condition with virtuoso areas of impasto, such as the wet-in-wet feather on the boy's turban, still intact.

Apart from being a tremendously decorative image, this costume piece by one of 17th century Amsterdam's most successful and elegant figure painters was also notable for the perceptive portrayal of the young sitter's mixed emotions.

This is exactly the sort of immediately appealing image that the Old-Master market craves and the picture duly maintained its record-breaking status by selling to the London dealer Johnny van Haeften on the telephone at $1.85m (£1.1m).

Taking into account the auctioneers' bits and pieces and the unknown profit Moatti must have made, this is a painting which, in terms of its dollar price, has just about held its value, if not actually made a profit for its private vendor since being sold at the height of the last major art market boom.

Exchange Rates:
May 23 £1 = $1.7
June 17 £1 = $1.75