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A painting by the Beatles sold for $1.7m at Christie’s in New York on 1 February (with fees), easily beating its estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. The work, Images of a Woman (1966), was consigned to Christie’s annual Exceptional Sale, an event held in New York, London and Paris that includes “rare masterpieces with important provenances”, the auction house says. The identity of the buyer is undisclosed.

The work was painted in July 1966, when the Fab Four were on tour in Japan. They ended up locked down in the presidential suite of the Tokyo Hilton at the request of local authorities who were concerned about their safety. According to a lot essay published by Christie’s, The Beatles received visitors, many of whom came bearing gifts including a top-quality set of art materials.

The stars worked under an illuminated bulb in their hotel room

Robert Whitaker, the tour photographer, captured the action. His photos show how the painting came together: how the Beatles arranged four chairs around a table, on which they laid out a rectangular sheet of fine Japanese art paper. “The chairs corresponded more or less with the four corners, and they placed a table lamp roughly in the centre, both to weigh down the paper and light it. Working under the illuminated bulb, each man began to create from his corner and slowly work up towards the middle,” the Christie’s essay says. The signatures of the four Beatles are scribbled on the patch of paper where the lamp stood.

According to Christie’s: “Whitaker’s photo shows a paint palette of 21 compartments, a tube of vermilion squished to spout its vivid redness. The bristles of a handsome new wooden-handled brush have been dipped in the pigment… giving the entire thing a red background wash. After that they worked in oils and watercolours, and Whitaker recalled that the finished work was completed over two nights.”

Tour photographer Robert Whitaker captures the behind-the-scenes of the painting

The painting was first acquired by Tetsusaburo Shimoyama, an entertainment industry executive who was then the chairman of Tokyo’s Beatles fan club. In 1989, it was purchased by record store owner Takao Nishino who put the work up for auction in New York in 2012 when it was acquired by Tracks Ltd UK, a Beatles memorabilia dealer. The present owner subsequently bought the piece from Tracks Ltd UK.

The Beatles all dabbled in art and photography; John Lennon attended Liverpool College of Art, now part of Liverpool John Moores University (Lennon’s wife, Yoko Ono, is also the subject of a major show opening at Tate Modern later this month). An exhibition of photographs by Paul McCartney opened last year meanwhile at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

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