Art: Return of the Natives

In their dark days of austerity. Britons were apt to find few experiences more painful than a successful art auction. At sale after sale, they saw their treasures knocked down to the prosperous bidders, who came mostly from the U.S. "It was.'' says London Dealer Geoffrey Agnew, "a slaughter." But the slaughter is now over: Britons have not only been bidding princely sums to keep their Old Masters at home, they have even been bringing some that have been absent for decades back across the Atlantic.

Only last March, Gainsborough's Mr.

and Mrs. Robert Andrews was bought at Sotheby's for $364,000—the highest auction...

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