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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - A painting by a follower of Leonardo da Vinci, which was once thought to be done by the Renaissance master himself, sold at auction for $1.5 million, three times its estimate price.
Sotheby's said the work, "La Belle Ferronniere," which was the subject of a slander trial in the 1920s, two books and which had been locked away in a vault for decades, sparked spirited bidding during the auction of Important Old Master Paintings and Sculpture that totaled $61,599,250.
"Everybody was interested in its history ... The fact is, at the end of the day it was beautiful. It shone through everything to be just a very potent, moving picture and the buyer had no interest in the speculation or in whom the artist was," George Wachter, Sotheby's co-chairman of the Old Master Painting Worldwide, said in an interview.
"He just loved the painting. He thought it was a powerful, beautiful work of art," he added about the private collector who bought the portrait thought to be of Lucrezia Crivelli, who was a mistress of Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan.
Another version of the painting, which experts and scholars believe was done by Leonardo da Vinci, hangs in the Louvre in Paris.
The painting was given to Harry Hahn, an American serviceman during World War One and his French bride as a wedding present. It was thought to have been done by Leonardo and authenticated by a French art expert.
After he returned to the United States in 1920 and tried to sell the painting to the Kansas City Art Institute, a leading art dealer, Joseph Duveen, said it was a fake and the deal fell through.
Hahn's wife sued Duveen for slander in a case that riveted the art world. The jury failed to reach a verdict and Duveen eventually settled out of court, paying $60,000.
Experts believe the portrait must date before 1750 because it contains lead-tin yellow, a color that was used in paintings up until the late 17th century.
"It was about wanting the painting, not about speculation," said Wachter, adding he was pleased with the results of the overall sale.
"I felt very pleased with the way the market responded to it. It was extremely successful," he said.
Wachter described the art market as very potent and strong and with many new private collectors.
"People are looking to buy good art. It is price sensitive. They know what they want and they know at what price they want it," he explained. "It is a controlled, discriminating market."