MOSCOW, Jan. 19, 2008 — -- Vladimir Putin is a man of many talents. Russia's prime minister has a black belt in judo, goes fly-fishing shirtless and has sedated a wild Siberian tiger. Now he can add artist to his growing list of accomplishments, after a picture he painted sold for 37 million rubles ($1.1 million) at an auction this weekend.
The piece was part of an auction of 30 paintings by well-known Russians held to raise money for a children's charity. The theme for the series was "Christmas Eve," a short story by renowned Russian writer Nikolai Gogol.
Putin's painting, "Pattern," depicts a frosty window framed by simple white curtains, typical of a Russian dacha, or country house. It fetched the highest price at the auction, with St. Petersburg Gov. Valentina Matviyenko's painting of a blizzard coming in a distant second at 11.5 million rubles ($360,000).
A work by Vadim Tulpanov, head of St. Petersburg's legislature, was bought for 1.6 million rubles ($50,000), and soprano Anna Netrebko's painting fetched 1.1 million rubles ($34,375).
Putin's piece was picked up by Natalya Kurnikova, an art collector and owner of the elegant Kurnikova Gallery. She told ABC News that her decision to pay such a huge sum for the work of an amateur was an easy one.
"The fact whether the painting was amateur or not was not important. What interested me was that it was painted by an important political figure of our time," she said. "This painting is unique not only because of this fact, but because it is the first painting by an important figure and probably the last. ... I wouldn't criticize it from an artistic point of view. It is good enough to look well among other paintings, but the deciding factor here was who painted it, and that it was for a charity."
Is Putin Painting Authentic?
It's unclear exactly how much of the painting Putin is actually responsible for. According to local media reports, he dashed off the window sill while in his hometown of St. Petersburg over the holidays, but the painting was touched up by a professional artist before going on the block.
ABC News asked some Russians what they thought of their leader's artistic efforts. Svetlana, a cleaning lady from Moscow, paused for some time as she looked over the painting. "Well, everyone has their own tastes. How can I say? I like it because Putin painted it. I like nature and flowers, so it's nice."
Slava, a biologist from Moscow, said, "I don't know how to judge art. I'm not a specialist. ... But I think as far as Russian style goes, it's pretty."
This is the first painting done by Putin, and for the moment, it doesn't look like he will be swapping politics for the paintbrush. It's just another box to be checked on an increasingly diverse resume.