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Velázquez Vanishes From Upcoming Sale

January 9, 2024
A full-length portrait of a 17th century woman in a black dress standing in front of red drapes.

Portrait of Isabel de Borbón by Diego Velázquez

A royal portrait by the Spanish Old Master Diego Velázquez has unexpectedly been withdrawn from the sale of which specialists expected it to be the star. The portrait of Isabel de Borbón is said to be one of the finest works of seventeenth-century Spanish painting to come to auction in decades. It was meant to appear in the February 1st Old Masters sale at Sotheby’s New York. The auction house had guaranteed it for $35 million.

The portrait, created sometime in the 1620s, shows Elisabeth (or Isabel in Spanish), Queen of Spain and wife to King Phillip IV. It is a full-length portrait, measuring just under 7 feet by 4 feet. She was born the eldest daughter of King Henry IV, who established the Bourbon dynasty in France. At 13, she was sent to Spain to marry Philip, who was only 10 years old himself. When they acceded to the throne six years later, they were King and Queen of both Spain and Portugal, which had been joined in a personal union in 1580 under Phillip’s grandfather. The Velázquez portrait, created early on in their reign, was originally held at the Buen Retiro Palace in Madrid, where it likely hung alongside a 1623 Velázquez portrait of the king. It remained there until Napoleon invaded Spain in 1808, and from there, it disappeared until it popped up again in the Louvre several decades later. Over the course of a century, it made its way to Britain and then to the United States. It last sold at auction in 1950 and has been in the same collection since 1978. With a $35 million guarantee, the portrait would have definitely broken Velázquez’s auction record of £8.42 million (or $16.9 million) set in 2007 when Santa Rufina sold at Sotheby’s London.

Since Velázquez was Phillip IV’s court painter, a majority of his work is portraiture of the royal family, its household, and the most important notables of seventeenth-century Spanish society. Therefore, many of his works are held in museums or the Spanish Royal Collection. The portrait of Isabel de Borbón is said to be one of the last major Velázquez works still in private hands. No specific explanation was given as to the painting’s withdrawal other than “ongoing discussions” with the sellers. Some previously speculated that the withdrawal was because an American museum had put in an offer on the painting. However, there is little evidence attesting to this.