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Saturday, 1 December, 2001, 08:13 GMT
Reynolds painting fetches 10m
Omai was feted in 18th Century London
Omai was feted in 18th Century London
A painting by 18th Century artist Sir Joshua Reynolds has been sold for 10.3m at Sotheby's.

Portrait of Omai achieved the highest auction price ever for a Reynolds portrait making it the most expensive British painting sold this year.

"It is by far the best and most important British picture to appear on the open market in my 25 years in the trade," said London art dealer Guy Morrison, who bought the painting.

"It is in beautiful condition and comes from an impeccable source," he added.

The picture has long been celebrated as one of the great icons of the period

David Morre-Gwyn from Sotheby's

The painting had been expected to fetch about 8m.

It was sold by Simon Howard, the owner of Castle Howard, a stately home in northern England where TV drama Brideshead Revisited was filmed.


The subject of the painting was a Polynesian youth who was feted as a noble savage by London society during the late 18th Century.

Omai was discovered by explorers on an island near Tahiti and brought back to England in 1774, where his exotic looks and refined manner caused a sensation.

He was granted an audience with King George III and invited to attend the state opening of Parliament.

Head of British pictures at Sotheby's, David Morre-Gwyn, said: "We always believed that this was one of the greatest British pictures to come on the market in recent years.

"The picture has long been celebrated as one of the great icons of the period."

The portrait fetched the second highest price ever for a British picture at auction.

The Sothebys office in Paris
Sothebys' entrance into the French market will revolutionise the country's antiques industry

The most expensive was Constable's The Lock, which was sold for 10.7m in 1990.

The auction came on the same day that Sotheby's made its debut in Paris.

It ended around 450 years of state control in the French art world.

It follows a change in French law which promises to make the selling process simpler, and could bring new treasures to the market.

The auction will bring the hammer down on an antiquated sales system which has brought the French art market to its knees.

Until the late 1950s, Paris was arguably the world's leading centre for art sales.

But in recent years its star has fallen, as New York and London have led the way.

The Sotheby's sale will be followed in early December by an auction hosted by the company's arch-rival Christie's.

See also:

28 Nov 01 | Europe
Sothebys makes French debut
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