A view of the Houses of Parliament by Claude Monet has sold for just under £11m at Christie's in New York, the highest price paid for a picture of London.
The strict anonymity surrounding the buyer of the moody image of Westminster shrouded in fog almost certainly means that the purchaser is one of the world's leading collectors.
The price for Londres, le Parliament Effet de Soleil le Brouillard (London, Parliament, effect of the sun in the fog) eclipsed the previous highest amount paid for a work of London, Canaletto's The Old Horseguards, London, from St James's Park, which fetched £9.2m at Christie's in London in 1992.
Monet - famed for his paintings of the water lily pond in his garden at Giverny - fell in love with England when he lived in London during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and made several return trips over the next 30 years. His last visits came around the turn of the 20th century, when he ensconced himself in a suite at the Savoy, with panoramic views of the Thames. During that time he painted 95 views of the river, including 19 oils of the Houses of Parliament, only five of which remain in private hands.
The painting of Westminster, arguably the finest of his London pictures, viewed from St Thomas's Hospital, surfaced at auction on Wednesday for the first time since completion in 1904. The price for the painting, which was owned by the same Continental family since its acquisition from the artist for 20,000 francs, put it in the top 50 of the world's most expensive paintings.
The 32ins by 36ins canvas was only the fourth Parliament picture by Monet to be auctioned in 40 years. Monet, an admirer of Turner and Constable, was inspired by London's extraordinary light effects in winter months. He reported: "When I got up I was terrified to see there was no fog, not even the least trace of a mist ... I was in despair ... but little by little, as the fires were lit, the smoke and the mist returned."
He also wrote: "I love London much more than the English countryside ... above all what I love is the fog."
Yesterday's sale came as a survey revealed that Monet's Water Lilies is the painting most people would like to have hanging over the mantelpiece. Constable's The Hay Wain was second, with The Kiss by Gustav Klimt sharing third place with Van Gogh's Sunflowers.