Lost portrait fetches pounds 2m

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The Independent Online
A painting of St John the Evangelist by the 17th-century Dutch master Frans Hals, which had been lost for 180 years, was bought by an anonymous bidder for five times the price expected. One of a set of four Evangelists acquired by Catherine the Great of Russia, it fetched pounds 1.92m in a sale of Old Masters at Sotheby's yesterday.

Catherine acquired the set from Baron van Borck, minister to the King of Prussia in 1773. They remained in the Imperial Hermitage in St Petersburg until 1812 when they were among 30 paintings sent on the orders of Tsar Alexander I to churches in the Crimea.

After that, the location of the set remained a mystery until 1959 when Luke and Matthew were discovered in a storeroom of the Odessa Museum.

The two carried an attribution to an unknown 19th-century Russian painter, but both also displayed traces of the red paint of their Hermitage inventory number. St Mark surfaced at auction in Milan in 1955, repainted as a bearded man in a ruff. The painting was confirmed as a Hals only after being cleaned in 1973 when the artist's monogram and St Mark's lion were revealed.

The long-lost fourth Evangelist was submitted to Sotheby's for sale by an unnamed woman who had no idea of its significance. St John is portrayed, as is customary, as a young man with his attributes, the gospels and eagle. The other three saints are portrayed as old men, as is usual.

Alexander Bell, head of Sotheby's Old Master paintings department, said: "This is a beautiful image, in untouched state, which displays the fluid brushwork and bold handling that are the hallmarks of this great painter."