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In addition to the usual gaggle of broadsheet journalists were eight film crews and a gallery audience of around 800, the biggest crowd anyone could remember at a London picture sale. Bigger than Sunflowers, bigger than The Massacre of the Innocents. Seven bidders took a serious interest in buying the 10 by 8in (25 x 20cm) oil on canvas that has recently been added to the Delft artist's oeuvre of 36 fully-authenticated pictures. The painting had been acquired from a London dealer in 1960 by Belgium tribal art dealer Baron Frederic Rolin after it had been deattributed by the leading Vermeer scholar of the day.

However, 11 years of scientific research and recent restoration championed by Sotheby's Old Masters specialist Greg Rubenstein, have convinced international scholars of its integrity. Bidding for the picture, the last by the artist in private hands, began at £2.4m, passing to two telephone bidders up to £6m at which point it became a two-way battle between dealer Robert Noortman and a telephone manned by Sotheby's specialist George Gordon. Auctioneer Henry Wyndham brought the hammer down to the latter at £14.5m. Casino tycoon and collector Steve Wynn, who last year bought a rediscovered Rembrandt self-portrait at Sotheby's for £6.2m, is thought to be Sotheby's client.