Auction Disappointment Over Sale of GW Portrait

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Defying high anticipation, one of two portraits of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart that have been in the New York Public Library's collection for more than a century failed to sell at Sotheby's yesterday in an auction that had generated advance controversy.

The other portrait, which had been owned by Alexander Hamilton and depicted Washington seated with a sword across his lap, sold for $8.1 million to an unidentified telephone bidder. Sotheby's predicted that it would go for $10 million to $15 million. Still, the price was a record for an American portrait at auction.

The works are among 16 paintings, watercolors and sculptures that the New York Public Library put on the block yesterday to raise money for its endowment. The decision, announced in April, drew protests from many art lovers and museum curators who said they felt that the library was jettisoning treasures central to the civic history of New York.

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