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Warhol painting fetches $1.3 million in online-only auction

Online auctions aren't just for Beanie Babies anymore.

Today, the online auction site Artnet said that it has sold what might be the most expensive artwork ever purchased over the Internet - a 1978 Andy Warhol painting from his "Flowers" series.

The winning bid: more than $1.3 million.

The 22 in. by 22 in. painting was one of four from Warhol's "Flowers" series and had been in a private German collection for many years. The buyer is a "well-known collector" who remains anonymous, according Robin Roche, director at Artnet.

It's not uncommon for a Warhol painting to fetch a high price. His 1963 silkscreen painting "Eight Elvises" was purchased for more than $100 million. What is notable is that the painting was purchased sight unseen over the Web.

"People are now taking the Internet seriously for trading fine art," Roche said. "Someone who would buy a Warhol knows what to look for."

Artnet bills itself as the eBay of the art world, providing an auction platform for buyers and sellers to connect. Similar to eBay, a seller posts an item for a period of time and collects bids. Once sold, the seller and winning bidder go offline to complete the sale. Artnet said it adds value to its auctions by employing a team of art experts to prepare a detailed condition report and have it studied by conservators.

The company tried a similar business model in 1999 but abandoned the effort after it failed to catch on, according to a recent profile in The New York Times. However, Roche said that attitudes are changing.

"Even in the past six months there's definitely been a validation of this model," she said. "We do at least 70 transactions per week of contemporary art."

Most of the items sold through Artnet are no where near the price tag of a Warhol. However, if you're in the market for a $400,000 painting from Josef Albers, as of press time you've got five days, 21 hours, 40 minutes left to place your bid.

About the author

Matt Berger is the former Digital Director at Marketplace.

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