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No buyers for one-off sale of Velázquez’s Philip IV portrait

13 December 2007

MADRID – The star lot in an art auction at Madrid’s Sala Retiro provoked surprise yesterday – not for reaching record figures, but for not finding a buyer at all. Bidding for Portrait of Philip IV by Diego Velázquez was due to kick off at EUR 2.5 million but no one purchased the painting, a version of the work by the same name on display in the Prado Museum. Perhaps the reluctance to buy such a rare piece – only 10 percent of Velázquez’s oeuvre is in private hands – was linked to experts saying that the canvas is in need of a “careful and respectful” restoration.

In June 2004, the expert considered to be the greatest authority on the 17th-century painter of Las Meninas, Alfonso Pérez Sánchez, wrote in a letter to the inheritors of the painting: “I consider this to be a work of Velázquez, but one which has been damaged and clumsily restored. The work will have been executed in 1628, as it is a reproduction of the portrait in the Prado. During those years Velázquez did not have an organised workshop and it makes sense that he made copies of his compositions.”

The painting in question belonged to Philip IV’s secretary, Pedro de Contreras and his son, Sebastián Antonio de Contreras, and had been handed down through successive generations until the current owners decided to sell the work.

At the same Madrid auction, the Cordoban painter, Julio Romero de Torres (1874-1930) – famous for his portraits of Andalusian beauties – fared better with his Carmen de Córdoba going under the hammer for EUR 425,000. The buyer, who outbid another potential purchaser bidding via telephone, preferred to remain anonymous. However, Romero de Torres’ preparatory pencil drawing on paper for one of the figures in Panneau, expected to reach over EUR 10,000, also failed to find a buyer.

[Copyright EL PAÍS, SL./ ISABEL LAFONT / R. I. 2007]

Subject: Spanish news