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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 July, 2004, 21:16 GMT 22:16 UK
Vermeer painting sells for 16m
Young Woman Seated at the Virginals was the first Vemeer auctioned in more than 80 years

A painting by 17th century Dutch master Vermeer, that was once dismissed as fake, has been sold in London for 16m.

Young Woman Seated at the Virginals, thought to have been painted in about 1670, was the first Vermeer to be auctioned in more than 80 years.

Sotheby's auction house had put a reserve price of 3m on the picture.

Measuring just 10 by 8in (25 by 20cm), the painting is by an artist known for more than 30 works - including Girl With A Pearl Earring.

An anonymous buyer paid a total of 16,245,600 for the painting.


Showing an upright piano, known as a "virginal" or "spinet", being played by a young woman, it is the only fully accepted example of Vermeer's work in private hands.

The painting's authenticity was questioned in 1947, when Dutch master forger Han van Meegeren went on trial for selling artworks to the Germans during World War II.

He admitted that he had sold seven fake Vermeers to museums and collectors.

Scarlett Johansson, Girl with a Pearl Earring
Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring inspired a Hollywood film
The painting was largely forgotten until it caught the eye of the late Belgian collector and dealer Baron Frederic Rolin in 1960.

In 1993, he showed it to Sotheby's Old Masters specialist Gregory Rubinstein, who suspected it might be the real thing.

Mr Rubinstein said pigments used in the painting matched those that Vermeer used - and which set him apart from his contemporaries.

The dimension of the canvas and its structure matched another Vermeer painting, The Lacemaker, suggesting the canvasses were prepared at the same time.

The last Vermeer to come up for auction was The Little Street in Amsterdam in 1921, whose buyer subsequently donated it to Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum.

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