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

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

The work, showing a woman playing music, with her face turned toward the viewer, was the first Vermeer painting put up for auction since 1921, Sotheby's said. Just 35 other paintings are attributed to Vermeer, making auctions of his work rare.

An auction house spokeswoman said it was sold to an anonymous buyer for $30.1 million, including a buyer's premium. The painting is now the only accepted Vermeer work in private hands, 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 in near obscurity.

Until last year, experts 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 took its place alongside Vermeer's other paintings.