A Royal Portrait by Diego Velázquez Heads to Auction for the First Time in Half a Century

The work is expected to fetch $35 million when it hits the block at Sotheby's New York.

Diego Velázquez. Isabel de Borbón, Queen of Spain (ca. 1631) Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

A full-length portrait painted by Spanish painter Diego Velázquez of Queen Isabel de Borbón, the wife of Spain’s King Philip IV, is expected to fetch $35 million when it heads to auction at Sotheby’s New York in February 2024.

Known by several variations of her name—Elisabeth of France and Isabella of Bourbon—the queen consort was the daughter of French monarch King Henry IV and her depiction by Velázquez is “of a caliber and importance” rarely seen on the market, Sotheby’s said in a statement.

Isabel de Borbón, Queen of Spain depicts Isabel in her 20s, wearing a sumptuous black court dress. Isabel was at the height of her powers when she sat for the painting, a widely admired queen for her intelligence and generosity.

The portrait was first made in the late 1620s, but Velazquez returned to it in 1631, soon after meeting Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens, who encouraged the Spaniard to study the Italian masters. Velázquez also likely wanted to update the costume Isabel is seen wearing—a shift in the outline of the skirt is even visible to the naked eye.

“Though Velázquez was already widely celebrated when he painted this work, here we see him at a moment of transformation,” Christopher Apostle, Sotheby’s international head of Old Master Paintings, said in a statement.

After its creation, King Philip hung the painting at the Buen Retiro palace in Madrid, a second home he had built on the site of a monastery he loved to visit to stroll in its attached farm. It was displayed as a pendant, or paired artwork, with Velázquez’s Philip IV in Black, now at the Prado Museum in Madrid.

When Napoleon invaded Spain in 1808, the painting was taken to France and displayed in an exhibition at the recently established Louvre. It hung in the Galerie Espagnole, or Spanish gallery, under the reign of Louis Philippe—the so-called “Citizen King” and last king of France before the rule of Napoleon III.

From there, the painting was sold to merchant banker and noted book collector Henry Huth, who hung it at his Wykehurst Park estate in England. The painting remained in the family until it was sold in 1950 and it has been in the collection of its current owners since 1978.

The painting will be displayed at Sotheby’s galleries on New Bond Street in London until December 6, the first time it has been publicly displayed in the U.K. in five decades. It will then travel to New York for a pre-sale exhibition ahead of the Sotheby’s annual Master Paintings auction on February 1.

The $35 million estimate for the sale is more than double the current auction record for a work by Velázquez. His painting Saint Ruffina (1629–32) sold at Sotheby’s London in 2007 for $16.9 million. According to the auction house, the last time a painting of this caliber by the artist hit auction was in 1970, when his Juan de Pareja (1650) sold for £2.3 million ($2.9 million)—almost tripling the previous world auction record for any painting.


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