Diego Velazquez’s Queen of Spain up for auction with $35 million price tag

Spanish master was at the height of his powers while painting 400-year-old portrait, Sotheby's says

Isabel de Borbon, Queen of Spain will be on display at Sotheby’s London for five days from Friday. Photo: Sotheby's
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A 400-year-old portrait of Spanish queen Isabel de Borbon by Diego Velazquez is up for sale – for the royal sum of $35 million.

Sotheby's is listing the full-length portrait of the queen, wife of Philip IV, former king of Spain and Portugal. It was first painted in the late 1620s.

The estimated sale price of the two-metre-high painting, due to go under the hammer in February, is a record for work by the 17th-century Spanish master.

"This exceptional painting is remarkable not just for its beauty and quality, but also for its scale and subject matter,” says George Wachter, chairman of Sotheby’s North and South America.

“Royal portraiture allowed Velazquez to push forward art in new and revolutionary ways and 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.”

Velazquez was a leading artist in the royal court during the Spanish Golden Age and became known for his realistic and complex portraiture. He is considered one of history's most important Spanish painters, influencing other greats such as Edouard Manet and Francis Bacon.

Borbon was painted when she was in her twenties in this portrait. She stands confidently in a detailed black court dress.

Velasquez first painted this portrait in the late 1620s. However, between 1631 and '32, he returned and reworked portions of the composition and costume, such as shifting the outline of the skirt. Some of these changes can be seen with the naked eye.

The portrait was first held at the Buen Retiro Palace in Madrid. After Napoleon’s invasion of Spain in 1808, it was taken to France, where it was displayed in Louis Philippe I’s Spanish gallery in Paris's Louvre Museum until the king’s fall from power in 1838.

It was bought by the merchant banker Henry Huth and it remained in his family until it was sold in 1950. The painting has been in the collection of its current owners since 1978.

Ahead of its sale in New York in February, the portrait will be displayed at Sotheby’s London for five days from Friday. It will be the first time in 25 years it will be seen in public.

Updated: November 30, 2023, 10:03 AM