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The lot becomes the second highest price ever paid for a work of art in a UK saleroom outside of London behind the Yuan dynasty double gourd form vase sold by Woolley & Wallis in July last year for £2.6m.

The two bust-length portraits, each measuring 16 x 13in (41cm x 33cm) and housed in an elaborate carved giltwood frame, are thought to depict the artist's daughters - one is identified as Anna Genevieve (1762-1842) - and are signed and dated 1766.

Research suggested the pictures were painted by Greuze for a Danish nobleman and resided in the rococo Moltke Palace, Copenhagen before coming to Great Britain via London dealer Arthur Tooth and Sons sometime in the early 20th century. In Jean-Georges Wille's Memoirs et Journal Paris 1837 he writes that "two superb representations of young girls" were purchased from Greuze at a cost of 40 gold louis by M.Le Conte de Moltke and M. Hellfried.

That provenance, the paintings' untouched condition and the obvious appeal of the subject matter were the three keys to commercial success.

Of less importance to the trade - but a hook for the national press - was a more recent provenance to The Old Rectory, Peasemore, home to the parents of the new Conservative Party leader David Cameron. Downsizing now that the children have flown the nest, Ian and Mary Cameron have been discreetly selling some of the family heirlooms at their local auctioneers in Berkshire. They sold 11 pieces of antique furniture for more than £60,000 in January, including a £30,000 Georgian mahogany tripod table.

Similar works survive in major collections (the Louvre has the largest corpus of Greuze's work) but auctioneers Dreweatt Neate of Donnington Priory near Newbury published a perplexing estimate of just £18,000-20,000. In fact they attracted international interest before the sale on February 1 and bidding from 22 registered telephones saw proceedings start at £80,000 and jump to £300,000 in a single bid. The winning bid of £900,000 - £1,050,000 once charges are added - was tendered by a "strictly anonymous" buyer thought to be London dealer Richard Green.

The price is a new record for a picture sold outside London. It relegates to second place the £540,000 (plus 15 per cent buyer's premium) bid by Agnew's for a portrait of the Richardson family by Francis Hayman at John Nicholson's Fernhurst salerooms in November 2004.

Dreweatt Neate's previous house record was the £350,000 paid by Partridge Fine Arts for a George III giltwood and specimen marble topped side table from the estate of Daisy Fellowes in January 2002.

The ATG's provincial Top Five

Woolley & Wallis, Salisbury, July 2005, Yuan dynasty blue and white double gourd vase, £2.6m + 15% premium

Dreweatt Neate, Donnington Priory, February 2006, two portraits of the artist's daughter by Jean Baptiste Greuze (1725-1805), £900,000 + 17.5/12.5% premium

John Nicholson, Fernhurst, November 2004, Portrait of the Samuel Richardson family by Francis Hayman (1708-1776), £540,000 + 15% premium

Finan & Co., Mere, June 2004, Complete set of four copies of the Negarestan murals c.1815, £500,000 + 15% premium

Lacy Scott & Knight, Bury St Edmunds, March 1999, a pair of 18th century Sèvres swan-neck vases - £500,000 + 12% premium