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Degas sells for nearly double expected price

LONDON -- Edgar Degas' 19th-century oil painting of French laundrywomen was auctioned Monday for more than $13.7 million, nearly double the expected price.

The transaction prompted one art expert to observe that 'the art market is holding up very well' despite international financial woes.

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The oil portrait, 'Les Blanchisseuses' ('The Laundry Maids') by Impressionist Degas, was purchased in a telephone bid during the auction at London's prestigious Christie's auction house. Christie's declined to identify the buyer.

A Christie's spokesman said the purchase price, included a 10 percent fee paid to the auctioneers.

The formidable oil, painted more than a century ago, had been estimated by Christie's at $7.3 million.

Christie's described 'Les Blanchisseuses' as 'the most important oil painting by Edgar Degas to appear on the market since World War II.'

The masterpiece was painted around 1875 and probably was shown at the second Impressionist exhibition in 1876. It shows two bare-armed laundry girls, one holding a bottle of water to dampen shirts and the second leaning on an iron to press creases.

Degas is perhaps best known for his paintings of ballet dancers, women dressing and horse racing.

The high purchase price delighted one Christie's expert, who dismissed speculation that the sale of art works had been harmed by the recent world financial slump.

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'It hasn't hurt at all,' he said. 'The art market is holding up very well.'

The expert said the number of major works of art entering the market has declined.

'There are more buyers chasing comparatively fewer major pictures,' he said.

The Degas was the first of two masterpieces to go on sale this week in London, each estimated to be worth at least $7.3 million.

The second, Pablo Picasso's Cubist painting 'Souvenir du Havre,' will go on the block Tuesday at Sotheby's, London's second great auction house.

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