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Court to rule on painting wrangle

The former owner of a painting controversially said to be by the hand of Caravaggio learns today whether he has won his High Court battle over a valuation which led him to sell the work for thousands - but is now insured for millions of pounds.

Lancelot William Thwaytes, whose family acquired the work known as The Cardsharps in 1962, is suing leading auction house Sotheby's alleging he was given negligent advice.

Mr Thwaytes, who inherited the painting from his art collector cousin, sold it through Sotheby's for a hammer price of £42,000 in December 2006 after it was catalogued as the work of a "follower" of Caravaggio.

The painting was bought by Mrs Orietta Adam, the partner of renowned scholar Sir Denis Mahon. On November 10 2007 - at his 97th birthday party - Sir Denis declared his belief that the old master had created the work himself in about 1595 and valued it at £10 million.

Following the death of Sir Denis, it went on loan to the Museum of the Order of St John at Clerkenwell, London, and is currently insured for £10 million.

Lawyers for Mr Thwaytes argued at London's High Court at a hearing last October before Mrs Justice Rose that Mr Thwaytes had sought Sotheby's full advice and wanted "certainty" about the nature of the painting before putting it up for sale, but the advice he was given was "negligent".

They accused Sotheby's of not consulting enough top experts or sufficiently testing the painting before the sale.

Sotheby's countered that many leading art specialists did not believe the work was by Milan-born Caravaggio and it would never have sold for the millions suggested by those supporting Mr Thwaytes.

It was also the unanimous opinion of specialists in the auction house's own old masters painting department that it was an anonymous copy of Caravaggio's Cardsharps displayed in the Kimbell Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, which was universally acknowledged to be by the old master.

However Sotheby's did not dispute that, if the painting were to be "an autograph work by Caravaggio, accepted by scholarly consensus and by the market, it would be worth many millions".

The painting itself shows a young, privileged man falling victim to a pair of cheats during a game of cards.

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