The Courtyard of a House in Delft, which shows off the artist's mastery over space and perspective, relates closely to a version in the National Gallery, London. Both works date from 1658, when de Hooch was at his artistic peak.
In 1811, the Christie's example - which came from Wrotham Park, Hertfordshire - was part of the famous colletion of Empress Josephine at the Chateau de Malmaison, where it was valued at 300 francs. The new owners are Noortman London, the Dutch firm which specialises in 17th-century Dutch art.
John Whately, its director, said the gallery was buying for stock and that pounds 4.4m was a reasonable price: 'We'd have gone higher.' Yet, as Charles Beddington of Christie's pointed out, the figure was a 'vast record price for this sort of Dutch painting'.
Christie's Old Masters sale also included a rediscovered portrait by Rubens. Portrait of Madame de Vicq - long ago separated from the Portrait of Henri de Vicq in the Louvre, Paris - disappeared more than 150 years ago after selling at Christie's for 205 guineas. The painting, valued at between pounds 1m and pounds 1.5m, failed to meet its reserve but was sold afterwards for pounds 990,000. However, in a buoyant auction, ten records were broken. Among them Rubens's modelli, or oil sketches, for a tapestry series on the life of Constantine the Great, sold for pounds 847,000, and a second Rubens, The Entombment, made pounds 1.04m. Their respective upper estimates were put at pounds 700,000 and pounds 800,000.
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