The previous record, set in 1986 by a lesser picture, is a mere pounds 313,900. Although the auction house cannot reveal the seller's identity, it says the painting's provenance is 'impeccable'.
It has been consigned by a private collector, a direct descendent of Joacquin Maria Ferrer, the man for whom the work was painted in 1824, when Goya was 78. Ferrer, Goya's compatriot, fled to France to escape the reign of Ferdinand VII of Spain. In 1824, Goya settled in Bordeaux, having being granted permission by the King to leave Spain for health reasons.
Although Goya painted the Ferrer picture from memory, it has a sense of immediacy - as if he had just witnessed the gory event. The oil on canvas measuring just 50cm by 60cm (20in by 23 1/2 in), shows the bull just after goring two horses to death in the arena. A group of matadors are huddled together behind the picador's blood-covered horse.
Hugh Brigstocke, of Sotheby's Old Master department, said: 'The undoubted quality of this painting, together with its provenance, makes it the yardstick against which all other bullfighting pictures by Goya must be measured.'
The work is in superlative condition. It has been X-rayed and studied by the Courtauld Institute Galleries in London. The
X-rays illustrate how Goya applied the paint with a palette knife, a brush or with his thumb or fingers wrapped in a rag. They also give an insight into his method: they reveal many small alterations to the composition.
The painting has been exhibited in public only three times since the day it was painted - in Madrid in 1900, Bordeaux in 1951 and Arles in 1990.
Sotheby's in New York hopes to whet the appetite of contemporary art collectors with Claes
Oldenburg's Cheesecake. This is one of his pop objects, created with muslin soaked in plaster over wire, which date from the early Sixties. Sotheby's estimates the piece will fetch dollars 35,000 to dollars 45,000 ( pounds 20,000 to pounds 26,000).
The sale offers another early Sixties pop icon, Arman's 'accumulation' of clocks piled up high in a glass cloche. It is estimated at dollars 35,000 to dollars 45,000.
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