27 Dec, 2023 @ 14:15
2 mins read

Renowned 17th century painting by Spanish master Velasquez vanishes ahead of its €50m auction in New York – and not for the first time

THE art world is once again grappling with the mysterious disappearance of a painting by a Spanish master, the Times report. 

Velasquez’s ‘Portrait of Isabel de Borbon’ vanished during Napoleon’s invasion of Spain in the early 1800s, only to miraculously reappear at the Louvre not long after.

Now the full-length portrait of Queen Isabel, who in 1621 became Queen of Spain as the wife of King Philip IV, has seemingly vanished once again.

Renowned auction house Sotheby’s conspicuously removed it from their auction list on their website last week.

The painting had been announced as a highlight of their Old Masters collection in New York to be sold on February 1, with a starting bid of $35 million.

This absence led to tongues wagging among art experts, with many speculating that the painting could have been acquired by a notable US art museum. 

However, the mystery was somewhat solved in a response to The Times on Boxing Day.

Sotheby’s said: “The sellers of Velazquez’s masterpiece Portrait of Isabel de Borbon have reluctantly decided on a temporary pause in the sale process, due to ongoing discussions on their side.”

The masterpiece, thought to be painted in the 1630s, showcases Queen Isabel, the first wife of King Felipe IV, in a black court dress, posed elegantly with a hand on a chair and the other holding a fan. 

velasquez spanish master painting sotheby's
The famous ‘Portrait of Isabel de Borbón’ by Velasquez, painted in the 1630s, was due to go under the hammer for a starting big of €50 million in February – before mysteriously being withdrawn. Credit: Sotheby’s

After being displayed in Madrid’s Buen Retiro Palace, it was transported to France under mysterious circumstances following Napoleon’s invasion.

The painting’s journey didn’t stop there. In 1838, it was sold to Henry Huth, an English merchant banker and book collector, and stayed within his family till 1950. 

Sotheby’s revealed that since 1978, the portrait has been part of a private family collection.

George Wachter, Sotheby’s chairman and co-worldwide head of old master paintings, had previously highlighted the painting’s significance.

“This grand portrayal of Isabel de Borbon is an exceptional example of the artist at the height of his powers, shaping the direction of portraiture for generations to follow,” he said.

Velázquez’s works are rare in public auctions, with the current record for one of his paintings standing at $16.9 million – significantly less than the initial price set for the Isabel portrait.

Despite its historical link to Spain, El País reports that there will be no effort by the Spanish state to reclaim the painting, as current laws covering art looting were established in the 20th century and cannot be applied retroactively.

Diego Velázquez, who passed away in 1660, was renowned for his royal portraiture, including the famous ‘Las Meninas’. 

His artistic brilliance extended beyond royal depictions to kitchen scenes and portraits of notable figures like Pope Innocent X and Juan de Pareja. 

This latest twist in the tale of his ‘Isabel de Borbon’ portrait adds another fascinating chapter to his enduring legacy in the world of art.


Walter Finch

Walter - or Walt to most people - is a former and sometimes still photographer and filmmaker who likes to dig under the surface.
A NCTJ-trained journalist, he came to the Costa del Sol - Gibraltar hotspot from the Daily Mail in 2022 to report on organised crime, corruption, financial fraud and a little bit of whatever is going on.
Got a story? walter@theolivepress.es

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