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A saltwater fantasy depicting a siren luring a sailor to his doom with her seductive song, which went unsold when it was last offered 15 years ago, topped the series, selling for more than double its guide at Sotheby’s for £3.2m. The Siren claimed the second-highest price for the artist at auction, behind the £6m paid in 2000 for St Celia at Christie’s.

Probably commissioned by the art dealership Thomas Agnew’s, which sold it in 1901 for £450, the 2ft 8in x 21in (81 x 53cm) oil on canvas was consigned from the collection of music industry entrepreneur Seymour Stein.

According to The Daily Telegraph, the new buyer is possibly US businessman and Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison.

At Christie’s, a privately consigned 23 x 18in (59 x 46cm) chalk drawing of a woman with arms raised above her head sold for £410,000 against a £150,000-250,000 guide – a significant improvement on the premium-inclusive £145,250 it made at Sotheby’s eight years ago.

The auction house described the work as a “beautiful, rare survival from the evolution of one of Waterhouse’s largest and most complex paintings Flora and the Zephyrs”. Fewer than 150 of Waterhouse’s preparatory drawings are known, most depicting a model’s head drawn in chalk or charcoal. The price is a record for a Waterhouse work on paper according to the Blouin Art Sales Index.