LONDON (Reuters) - One of the last privately owned masterpieces by J.M.W. Turner has sold for a record 30.3 million pounds ($47.47 million) at a London auction, amid a surge of interest in the 19th Century British painter.
Described by auction house Sotheby's as one of Turner's greatest achievements, the 1835 work "Rome, from Mount Aventine" set a new price high for the Romantic master as well as for any pre-20th Century British artist.
Four bidders pushed the price of the large-scale oil painting above pre-auction expectations of 15 million to 20 million pounds before it finally went to an anonymous buyer.
The painting has never been restored and had only changed hands once before, when it was bought in 1878 by Archibald Primrose, the Earl of Rosebery, who later became a British prime minister.
The landmark price was not only driven by the work's "exceptional" provenance and condition, but also by its rarity, said Alex Bell, co-chairman of Sotheby's Old Master Paintings department.
"It is hard to overstate the importance of Rome, from Mount Aventine," he said in a statement.
"There are no more than half a dozen major works by Turner left in private hands and this work must rank as one of the very finest."
The sale on Wednesday evening coincided with renewed public interest in one of Britain's greatest painters, sparked by director Mike Leigh's Turner biopic and an exhibition of the revolutionary artist's later works, currently on show at London's Tate gallery.
A barber's son, Joseph Mallord William Turner overturned 19th Century conventions by painting the vitality of his age.
He challenged the boundaries of realism and abstraction with a boldness that predated Impressionist greats such as Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro.
Other works on sale during Sotheby's Old Master and British Paintings auction included Canaletto's "Venice, the Piazza San Marco looking east towards the Basilica" and Peter Paul Rubens' "The Martyrdom of Saint Paul".
The evening yielded a total of almost 54 million pounds, with strong demand from new markets, particularly Russia, the auction house said.
(Editing by Larry King)