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‘Love Among Ruins’ Sets $22 Million Burne Jones Record

Edward Burne-Jones
"Love among the Ruins" by Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones. This recently rediscovered watercolor, dating from 1870 to 1873, sold in an auction of Victorian paintings at Christie's International in London on July 11. Source: Chrsitie's Images Ltd. 2013 via Bloomberg

A watercolor by the Victorian painter Edward Burne-Jones sold today in London for 14.8 million pounds ($22.3 million), a record auction price for a Pre-Raphaelite work of art.

The recently rediscovered painting “Love among the Ruins,” inspired by a Robert Browning poem, showed two lovers embracing in front of a derelict classical building and made about three times its upper estimate.

Dating from 1870 to 1873, the work had been estimated by Christie’s International at between 3 million pounds to 5 million pounds in an auction of Victorian and British Impressionist paintings. The buyer was an unidentified bidder in the room.

The picture, retaining its original frame, hadn’t been seen on the auction market since 1958. Before the sale, it was shown by Christie’s in Moscow, New York and Hong Kong.

The female model for the painting has been identified as Maria Zambaco, a Greek beauty with whom Burne-Jones conducted an affair in the late 1860s. A later oil version is on permanent display at Wightwick Manor, a National Trust house near Wolverhampton, central England, Christie’s said.

The market for Pre-Raphaelite art boomed in the late 1990s, thanks to competition between wealthy collectors such as Andrew Lloyd Webber, Isabel Goldsmith, U.S. stockbroker Jerome Davis and Australian cleaning-services magnate John Schaeffer.

Demand peaked in June 2000 when Lloyd Webber paid 6.6 million pounds with fees -- then the second-highest price ever for a British work of art -- for John William Waterhouse’s “St. Cecilia.”

Dealers said the four collectors subsequently became less active in the market. The 2000s also saw Victorian art eclipsed by the popularity of contemporary works.

Muse highlights include Rich Jaroslovsky on technology, Martin Gayford on European art, Jason Harper on cars, Lance Esplund on U.S. art, Robert Heller on rock music and Amanda Gordon’s Scene Last Night.

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