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Constable's The Lock sells for GBP 22m

4th July 2012

One of John Constable's best-known paintings, The Lock, has been sold for a record price at auction, making it one of the most expensive British works of art.

The artwork, which depicts a rural scene in Suffolk, was purchased by an anonymous bidder for £22,441,250 – the highest price ever paid for a Constable painting. It surpasses the GBP 10.8 million the same piece fetched in 1990 and means the work is now the fourth most valuable painting by an Old Master.

Painted in 1824, the masterpiece was first purchased at the Royal Academy exhibition by the wealthy British merchant James Morrison and passed through generations of his family until 1990, when it was bought by Swiss industrialist Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza to add to his vast private collection.

After his death in 2002, The Lock, along with 250 other works, was left to Baroness Carmen 'Tita' Thyssen-Bornemisza and has been housed in Madrid's Bornemisza Museum ever since.

However, earlier this year the Baroness revealed she was putting the painting up for sale in order to generate some much-needed cash – a decision that was extremely unpopular in Spain.

'It's very painful for me, but there was no other way out. I need the money, I really need it. I have no liquidity. Keeping the collection here is costly to me and I get nothing in return,' she told the Spanish newspaper El Pais.

The move led to museum trustee Sir Norman Rosenthal resigning in protest, claiming that the sale of one of the prize exhibits could compromise the collection.

He commented: 'The decision represents a moral shame on the part of all those concerned, most especially on the part of Tita.'

Criticism was also levelled at the Baroness' stepdaughter Francesca Von Habsburg, a museum board member, who questioned her motives.

'The Baroness has shown absolutely no respect for my father and is simply putting her own financial needs above everything else,' she added.

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