One of three drawings by Goya sold at Christie's on July 8, Constable Lampinos Stitched Into a Dead Horse made £650,000.

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From the artist's private albums, they had the imaginative quality and harrowing drama associated with Spain's most powerful and original artist of his time.

Consigned to Christie's by a private Swiss collector, they were the most important group of sketches by Goya to be sold for 30 years.

They had been last been seen in 1877 at the landmark sale of Goya works at the Hotel Drouot in Paris when 105 drawings were sold individually for prices between Fr6 and Fr140. These were respectable, rather than outstanding, prices at the time - and modest when compared to the sums paid at the Delacroix studio sale 13 years later.

The brown ink drawings offered at Christie's were still on the mounts made for the 1877 auction and had pinholes at the top from where the tacks were used to hang them for the sale.

Having been kept in a folder with various other works on paper and having never exposed to light, they were in exceptional condition.

Goya's private albums were assembled from 1795 until his death in 1828, when they passed to his son. They were filled with sketches of people in various moods and situations often embodying the nightmarish sense that Goya explored with his extraordinary handling and contrasts of light and shade.

They drew serious levels of international bidding, all selling on the phone to different European privates.

Making a combined £3.47m hammer, they contributed well over half of the sale total.

The top seller was Bajar riñendo (Down they come) which made a double-estimate £2m, smashing the auction record for a work on paper by the artist.

Depicting a pair of squabbling women flying through the air, it came from Goya's Album D, otherwise known as his Witches and Old Women Album.

Only 21 other sheets from the album are known to still exist, and all bar one are now in public institutions. This rarity factor, combined with the curatorial approval of this particular series was the reason why the drawing stood out in terms of price.

From Album F, or Images of Spain, was Repentance, a sketch of a penitent saint which took £820,000. Showing the figure sitting on a rock, Goya used lighting effects to illuminate the howling expression and clasped hands of the subject.

The third sketch was also from Album F. Entitled Constable Lampinos Stitched Into a Dead Horse, it was one of the rare works that had been extensively annotated in Goya's own hand.

The inscription relates to the subject matter which shows the head of a Zaragoza policeman emerging from the horse's carcass into which he had been sewn. Goya shows Constable Lampinos being hounded by snarling dogs.

The corrupt constable was the victim of rioting peasants who left him inside the horse skin for 24 hours before finishing him off by injecting him with lime - also the subject of another Goya drawing now in the New York Met.

A particularly horrible form of capital punishment, the depiction at Christie's nevertheless had enough admirers for it to sell at £650,000.

The buyer's premium was 25/20/12 per cent.

By Alex Capon