Picture by "new artist" Putin fetches $1.1 million

ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - A picture sketched by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has fetched 37 million roubles ($1.15 million) at a charity auction.

The painting of snowfall seen through a window, finished by a professional artist, features a sprawling “Putin” signature and was introduced at Saturday’s auction with the words: “Here is a new artist.”

The auctioneer started bidding at 20,000 roubles ($620), the same as the other lots, only to meet cries of “Let’s not be penny-pinchers” from the buyers, who demanded a starting price of five million roubles.

A black belt in judo, Putin has cultivated an image of a tough man, lionized by Russian media but so far not known for artistic talent.

An auction organizer said Putin had painted the picture in 20 minutes and then a professional artist filled in the details.

“Of all the paintings presented there, this was the best one,” said a spokeswoman on Sunday for “Our Artists,” the Moscow-based gallery which bought the painting.

The gallery, located in an exclusive wooded avenue just outside Moscow favored by oligarchs and top officials, said it would exhibit the painting to the public.

Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Michael Stott and Dominic Evans