The first painting by the Dutch Old Master Johannes Vermeer (search) to be sold at an auction in decades was bought for more than $30 million Wednesday.

The 10 inch-by-8 inch picture, "Young Woman Seated at the Virginals," (search) far exceeded the reserve price of $5.5 million when it went under the hammer at Sotheby's in central London.

The work, showing a young woman playing music, with her face turned toward the viewer, was the first Vermeer painting be put up for auction in more than 80 years, Sotheby's said.

A company spokeswoman said it was sold to an anonymous buyer for $30,101,472, including a buyer's premium. The painting is now the only accepted Vermeer work currently in private hands, Sotheby's said.

There are just 35 other paintings around the world attributed to Vermeer, making auctions of his work a rare event. The last time a Vermeer was offered for sale at auction was 1921, Sotheby's said.

Like many of the artist's more famous works, it shows off his widely regarded skill with light and color.

But the painting spent most of the 20th century languishing in near obscurity.

Until last year, experts had disagreed about the significance of the work, which had lost its Vermeer attribution after a forgery scandal in the 1940s.

After more than 10 years of extensive research by leading scholars, it finally took its place alongside Vermeer's other paintings.

The old master has proved immensely popular with the public in recent years.

During that time, a major Vermeer exhibition in London sold out, and a film based on a Vermeer painting, "Girl with a Pearl Earring," starring Colin Firth (search) and Scarlett Johansson (search), was a worldwide hit.