The largest Velázquez painting on the art market promises to fetch the best result ever hammered for an Old Spanish work


Painted in the 1620s-1630s, during a period of transformation in the career of Diego VELASQUEZ (1599-1660), the two-meter-high portrait depicts Isabelle de Bourbon, the daughter of the French King, Henry IV, before her marriage with the King of Spain, Philip IV. This prestigious painting by the great Spanish artist Diego Velázquez, which will be auctioned on 1 February 2024 at Sotheby’s in New York and is expected to fetch around $35 million.

Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez Seville, Isabel de Borbón, Queen of Spain, ca. 1620s

With that price target, Sotheby’s is clearly hoping to set a new auction record for the famous painter of Las Meninas (kept in Madrid’s El Prado Museum). The Spanish master’s current auction record dates back to July 2007 when Sotheby’s in London sold his portrait of Saint Rufina for approximately $17 million, the most expensive work by a Spanish Old Master ever sold at auction. More prestigious than the Saint Rufina, the portrait of Isabelle de Bourbon is now set to take that title at the beginning of next year.

In a Sotheby’s press release, George Wachter, its co-chair of Old Master paintings (including, of course, paintings by the great European Renaissance masters) writes enthusiastically that this is the largest work by Velázquez put up for sale for half a century and that this exceptional painting is remarkable not only for its beauty and quality but also for its size and its subject, royal portraits. The aura of prestige and historical importance of the painting should attract interest from major museums and major collectors and dealers.

This work also has an perfectly-traced provenance… the sort the market dreams of: initially exhibited for several decades at the Buen Retiro Palace in Madrid along with Velázquez’s portrait of Philip IV in black, after the invasion of Spain by Napoleon in 1808, it arrived in the Spanish gallery of the Louvre where it remained until the fall from power of King Louis Philippe in 1838. It then passed through the hands of several dealers and collectors until an auction in 1950. The work has remained with the same private owners since 1978.

Ahead of its sale in New York on 1 February 2024, the portrait of Isabella de Bourbon, Queen of Spain is already being shown in London at Sotheby’s New Bond Street galleries until 6 December. The exhibition also features a rare rediscovered painting by Rembrandt. Other works will support this prestigious sale of Old Master works including two rediscovered self-portraits by Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck, and a version of Suzanne and the Old Men by the famous artist Artemesia Gentileschi.

Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez Seville, Sainte Rufine

The 5 top-selling Spanish Old Master paintings to date:

$16.9 million: Diego VELASQUEZ, Saint Rufina

4 July 2007 at Sotheby’s London

$16.4 million: GOYA AND LUCIENTES, Portrait of Doña María Vicenta Barruso Valdés(1805) on 25 January 2023 at Christie’s New York

$7.8 million: Fray Juan SANCHEZ COTAN, Bodegòn with a Cardoon and Francolin

8 December 2004 at Christie’s London

$7.2 million: Jusepe DE RIBERA, A Girl with a Tambourine – 1637

7 March 2019 at Sotheby’s London

$6.2 million: Jusepe DE RIBERA, Prometheus

7 August 2009 at Sotheby’s London

Jusepe DE RIBERA, Prometheus