Answers on the back of a painting please

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The Independent Online
An art student, Perie Kemal-Orek, 27, hit the jackpot at the Royal College of Art's charity sale of unsigned postcard-sized paintings.

She paid pounds 30 for what turned out to be the most valuable work among the 1,600 on display - an acrylic cityscape by Frank Auerbach, estimated to be worth pounds 4,000.

It was not a lucky guess, Ms Kemal-Orek said yesterday when the names of the artists were revealed by the Royal College. "A friend of mine bought an Auerbach last year, and I studied it. This one was very similar in style. As soon as I saw it I knew it was him. But there was an element of risk. There are a lot of pastiches around."

Ms Kemal-Orek has applied to study at the RCA, having completed a fine- art degree course at Birmingham. The RCA exhibition - at which all the postcard-sized works, signed only on the reverse, were on sale for pounds 30 - proved trebly fortunate for her. As well as the Auerbach she bought a work by the abstract painter Albert Irvin, whose style she also recognised, and which is estimated to be worth pounds 500. She also exhibited a still life herself, which got her pounds 30 of her pounds 60 expenditure back.

"The two I bought have turned out to be worth a lot," she said, "but I won't sell them unless I fall on very hard times. I want to start my own collection, like Degas."

The exhibition and sale of works, entitled "Absolut Secret", raised pounds 40,000 for the students' hardship fund at the Royal College of Art. The sponsor, Absolut Vodka, is giving an extra pounds 5,000.

Many of the 600 exhibitors were students but more than half were well known artists, including Eduardo Paolozzi, Paula Rego, Maggi Hambling, Sir Denys Lasdun and Elizabeth Blackadder. Even for the cognoscenti there were traps. Purchasers who thought they recognised Peter Blake's style might have ended up with a work by another member of his family: his nine- year-old daughter Rose also had an entry in the exhibition.

Susie Allen, who curated the four-day exhibition, at which every work was sold, said: "It really caught the public imagination. There were queues of over 200 at a time to buy the postcard-sized paintings and drawings. Because there were no signatures on them, everyone ... had to choose from the heart. And certainly they didn't all guess right. One person was dancing with delight certain he had bought one by Anton Tapies, Spain's best living artist. It was by a student."