Offered as a ‘portrait of a Catholic nobleman’, a work thought to date from the late 17th century drew protracted bidding during a sale at Mitchells (25% buyer’s premium) on November 30-December 2.
The 4ft 4in x 3ft 8in (1.31 x 1.12m) unframed oil on canvas showed the swaggering long-haired subject wearing armour with the Order of Santiago on his chest.
The background to his right featured an extensive battle scene, although parts of it were difficult to discern due to the losses to the paint surface as well as a series of scratches, tears and areas of restoration.
It came to the Cockermouth, Cumbria saleroom from the Langdale Chase Hotel by Windermere. The work had hung in the wood-panelled Victorian interior in a doorway by the main entrance hall. It is not known where the painting was beforehand but it appears to have been added to the hotel’s decor following a refurbishment c.1900.
At Mitchells it was catalogued as ‘Continental School late 17th century’ and estimated at £1000-1500. It drew keen bidding on the day, including from at least one party from overseas, and was knocked down at £26,000 to an online buyer in Spain.
The sitter’s identity was seemingly key to the demand. While the back of the painting had a small copper plate engraving of Sir Thomas Fairfax which was stuck to the stretcher – an obvious red herring as the Parliamentarian English Civil War commander was hardly accustomed to wearing Catholic insignia – the auction house told ATG after the sale that it had received some extra information about the subject.
The most likely candidate proposed was Inigo Melchor Fernandez de Velasco (1629-96), a high-ranking aristocrat in the court of Spanish king Charles II. He served as Governor General of the Spanish Netherlands between 1668-70.
Murillo painted an earlier portrait of Velasco but this picture appeared to show him middle-aged, perhaps around the time of his tenure in the Netherlands or slightly later after Spain was drawn into the Franco-Dutch War of 1673.
While the condition of the work was far from ideal, it is likely that the painting will now become the subject of a research project.
Lips and chin clinch it
Meanwhile, another portrait with a Spanish subject turned heads at an Italian auction a fortnight later when a surprise bidding contest emerged in Rome at Babuino Casa D’Aste (25% buyer’s premium) for a 17th century portrait of Philip IV (1605-65).
He was king of Spain (1621-65) and Portugal (1621-40) and famously painted repeatedly across 30 years by Diego Velazquez (1599-1660) in a series of portraits that involved a political element.
Here, the absence of swagger and badges of royalty reflected the reformist intentions of the monarch and his court. However, despite the narrow chromatic range and relatively sober clothing, the sitter with his prominent Habsburg lips and chin was instantly recognisable.
The 2ft 4in x 22in (70 x 56cm) oil on canvas in a giltwood frame, consigned by a Rome family, shows the monarch in his youthful 20s wearing armour and a white ruff akin to the portrait by Velazquez dated c.1626-28 in the Prado, Madrid.
More than one admirer believed they had seen something more than a pedestrian copy under areas of late 19th century restoration and overpainting. Estimated at €2500-3500 on December 14, it sold to an online buyer at €47,000.
Another portrait drawing interest at an overseas sale, this time with an English subject, came up at Schloss Ahlden (25% buyer’s premium inc VAT) in Germany.
The auction in Lower Saxony on December 2 included what was believed to be an early work by George Romney (1734-1802). According to information on the original frame, the sitter was the 72-year-old Mrs Daniel Wilson of Dallam Tower.
Although far removed from the artist’s ‘prime period’ images of Emma Hamilton and the most fashionable members of Georgian society, the Wilson family were among Romney’s most important patrons in his formative years.
The Lancastrian artist, who was born in Dalton-in-Furness and died in Kendal, made his reputation painting portraits of the Lakeland gentry. Working from a studio in Kendal, Romney could count the Wilsons of Dallam Tower and the Stricklands of Sizergh Castle as his best clients before his move to London in 1762.
This picture in Germany was dated 1760.
Daniel Wilson (1680-1754) was a Whig politician who sat in the Commons for a total of 34 years as MP for Westmorland from 1708-47. His wife Katherine, depicted here in her widow’s weeds, was the daughter of Sir Daniel Fleming of Rydal Hall, another Westmorland politician.
The relined canvas, 2ft 6in x 22in (76 x 56cm), was guided at €1500-3000 but found its audience, selling online at €33,000 (£30,000).