The estimate on the picture was £300-£500. When its turn came last Tuesday at Gilding's - a small, family-run auction house that holds about 45 sales per year - something truly extraordinary happened. "The atmosphere in the room became very tense - the bidding just went on and on," said the auctioneer, Mark Gilding. The final hammer price was £205,000.
Described in the auctioneer's catalogue as "18th-century continental school, half-length portrait of an aesthete", it depicted a black-clad, bearded man, his face half turned to the right, a rather distant, soulful expression in his eyes.
Speculation is now abuzz that the work is actually an early Titian, dating between 1510 and 1520, and possibly worth something in the region of £5 million. The buyer has not come forward - the vendor picked the work up in an estate sale in 1974.
Stories like this make me happy - I like that there's still room for surprises and discoveries 9and, I guess, false attributions) in today's art market. I do wonder though if the vendor will be pleased that the work sold for 400 times its top reserve, or pissed that they unknowingly let a £5 million Titian slip through their fingers?