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Bids for a painting advertised by a Swedish auction house as the work of a student of 17th-century Dutch Baroque master Rubens went through the roof as experts identified it as the master's own work, auctioneers said Wednesday.
Bidding for the piece, entitled "Allegorical Scene - with Diana the goddess of hunting", started at 15,000 kronor (2,200 dollars, 1,650 euros) but went up to 16.6 million kronor (2.43 million dollars, 1.83 million euros) as excited bidders were convinced that the auctioneers had made a major blunder.
"It had been catalogued as a piece in the manner of Rubens, which is not his own hand but from his school," Charlotte Widenfelt, curator of the Uppsala auction house some 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of Stockholm, told AFP.
"At the auction (on Tuesday) there were people who believed it was a real Rubens," she said.
The work has not been authenticated but "all the experts in this country have now checked ... and they say it is genuine," a spokeswoman for Sotheby's Scandinavia told AFP.
The winning bidder, Henry Avar, who bought the painting on behalf of a British client and fended off three other bidders in the final stages, is one of Sweden's most respected art experts.
"He (Avar) could see the artist had changed it in several places and you would not find that in a fake," the spokeswoman added.
If the painting is indeed a Rubens, it is worth many times the price paid, Uppsala auctioneers told Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter.
The Sotheby's spokeswoman said the Uppsala auction house could be forgiven because Rubens paintings don't show up in Sweden often.
"A Rubens appears ... three times every four hundred years," she said.
The work features the goddess Diana on horseback surrounded by an entourage of heavenly figures. It measures 45 centimetres by 61 centimetres (17.72 inches by 24.02 inches).
"It's the most expensive old master or foreign painting ever sold in Sweden," Widenfelt said.
The sellers are a Swedish couple in their seventies who had attempted to sell the painting several times before.
The whereabouts of the Rubens painting has been a mystery since the 1920s.
AFP 061834 GMT 12 06
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