If an export licence is granted, The Holy Family with the Infant Baptist on the Rest on the Flight into Egypt will leave Britain after more than 150 years in a private collection at Great Tew, Oxfordshire.
'It will be the most important drawing in our collection,' said Dr Goldner. 'I've always wanted it,' he added, although he had seen it only in photographs. The chalk-and-ink drawing has been hidden from public view since 1836.
Bidding opened at pounds 2m. Within seconds, it had passed the estimated pounds 3m, a tentative figure as the only comparable works were a Raphael sold for pounds 3.5m in 1984, and a Leonardo da Vinci for pounds 3.7m in 1989.
Dr Goldner dropped out of the bidding early, but Katrin Bellinger, a Munich-based dealer, bought the drawing on the Getty's behalf. As Dr Goldner explained, 'it doesn't hurt to confuse the others'.
Ms Bellinger said that she did not forsee problems over export, since public collections in Britain are unlikely to be able to match the price.
Christie's did less well with a Holbein miniature - two portraits in one frame, of Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex in Henry VIII's time. Estimated at pounds 500,000, it did not sell.Reuse content