The painting, considered one of the best of Goya's few bullfighting scenes in oil, sold for pounds 4.95m, a record for a Goya painting; the previous figure, set in 1989, was pounds 313,900. It was bought by the Getty Museum in California, though the actual bidding was done by William Jordan, a leading dealer in Spanish paintings. It was the first time that Mr Jordan had bought something on the museum's behalf: as one source noted it was a brilliant ploy to put the competition off the scent.
Bidding started at pounds 3m, stalled at pounds 3.4m and jerked up to pounds 3.9m. Then Mr Jordan joined in, competing with a telephone bidder. As the hammer went down, he did not attempt to conceal his utter delight.
George Goldner of the Getty said that it would complement a Goya portrait in its collection: 'It is a wonderful picture, a poetic work, despite the tragic subject, perfectly romantic and perfectly Spanish.'
The seller is an anonymous descendant of Joacquin Maria de Ferrer, for whom Goya painted it in Paris four years before his death in 1824 at the age of 78. The untitled painting, which shows a bull that has gored two horses to death eyeing the picador on another injured horse, has been exhibited only three times.
Goya created two famous series of works about bullfighting, the first of 33 prints done in Spain and the second of four lithographs in Bordeaux, France.
An important blue and white early Ming brushwasher, stolen in 1984 from a leading oriental art dealer in London's West End, was sold to a Japanese dealer for pounds 682,000 at Bonhams yesterday. Its estimate was pounds 300,000 to pounds 500,000.