The unsigned canvas depicting two hummingbirds caught the eye of the 42-year-old New York property developer last summer while on holiday in Devon. Niggled by the thought that it might be valuable, he took it into Christie's in London to discover that his suspicions were well founded.
Ruby Throats with Apple Blossoms, by Martin Johnson Heade, one of several paintings brought to England in 1865, sold at Christie's to a private collector for dollars 96,000 ( pounds 67,226), way above an estimate of dollars 30,000 to dollars 50,000.
Nicholas Lambourn, the London expert who identified the painting, said the tourist was pleasantly surprised.
'He said the painting of two hummingbirds sort of rang a bell with him but he didn't quite know why,' Mr Lambourn said. 'I explained he had probably seen a similar image by Heade in one of the big American galleries which sparked a subliminal memory.'
Heade is famous for his humming bird paintings carried out in Brazil. He brought them to England around 1865 and sold a group of 16 to Sir Morton Peto, whose family seat was near Bristol.
The discovery follows other memorable flea market finds. In April last year an album of Henry Fuseli drawings, bought by an elderly couple in a London market, sold for pounds 748,440; while in 1991 Christie's sold an uncut Keats first edition, picked up for pounds 30 at another London market, for pounds 9,350.Reuse content