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In July 2013 it had appeared at Christie's South Kensington as part of a sale of works from the collection of the Viscounts Hambleden where it was catalogued as 'Follower of John Constable' and estimated at £500-800. It was knocked down for £2800.

In the intervening 18 months, it has been cleaned, researched and had its attribution ungraded to a fully autograph work. It appeared at Sotheby's New York with a $2m-3m estimate and was catalogued as "one of the most exciting and important additions to the master's oeuvre to have emerged in recent decades". 

When the 18 x 2ft (46 x 61cm) oil on canvas sold at CSK, it was not in the best condition. It suffered from dark and heavy retouching which likely dated from the 19th or early 20th century, something which has since been removed to unveil its underlying quality. The cleaned picture was examined by Anne Lyles, the former curator of 18th and 19th century British art at the Tate and a recognised authority on Constable, who has ascribed it as preliminary work for the larger painting now owned by the Tate.

No details about the buyer or vendor have yet emerged.

Dutch Old Master

Overall, the Sotheby's sale generated a premium-inclusive total of £57.1m (£39.4m) with 73 of the 104 lots getting away (70%). The auction was led by a remarkable black and white picture of a Dutch harbour by Willem van de Velde the Elder (c.1611-1693) which made a record $4.7m (£3.24m) against a $2m-3m pitch. It was one of the best examples of 'penschilderij' (pen and ink painting) left in private hands.

Sotheby's also held a stand-alone single-owner sale comprising Renaissance and Mannerist works assembled by dealer Fabrizio Moretti. The 31-lot auction generated a premium inclusive total of £$6.47m (£4.46m).

Christie's Old Master sales in New York registered a more mixed performance. Bidding was patchy at their main paintings auction on January 28 with only 22 of 54 lots getting away (41%) for a premium-inclusive $9.35m (£6.32m). They did however achieve the highest price of the series at their separate 'Renaissance' sale - the $8m (£5.52m) for Portrait of a young man with a book by Agnolo Bronzino (1503-1572).

The 3ft 1in x 2ft 7in (94 x 78cm) oil on poplar panel had previously failed to sell in the same rooms in January 2013 against a $12m-18m estimate but this time round had a lower pitch of $8m-12m. Although it sold on low estimate, the sum was a major record for the artist.

The buyer's premium at Sotheby's and Christie's was 25/20/12%.

£1 = $1.45