Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Vélazquez, Seville 1599 - 1660 Madrid, Saint Rufina, Estimated 6,000,000—8,000,000 GBP. Sold for £8,420,000. © Sotheby's Images.
LONDON - This evening at Sotheby’s in London, a rare, alluring work by Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez – Saint Rufina – sold for £8,420,000 ($17,003,348/ˆ12,472,564), setting a new world auction record for the artist, and also becoming the most expensive Old Master Painting by a Spanish artist ever sold at auction. The painting was bought by the Focus Abengoa Foundation from Seville, the painter’s birthplace.
Alex Bell, head of Sotheby’s Old Master Paintings department in London, said: “The great story this evening was the sale of the Velázquez. I am thrilled that this beautiful portrait of the Seville’s patron saint has found a permanent home in the artist’s birthplace.”
Saint Rufina was the highlight of Sotheby’s evening sale of Old Master Paintings which realised a total of £36,349,600 ($73,404,383/ˆ53,844,742) - the third highest total for such a sale at Sotheby’s in London. The auction began with the sale of Turner watercolours from the collection of Guy and Myriam Ullens, which together made a remarkable combined total of £10,767,200. This dynamic start set the tone for the remainder of the sale.
Estimated at £6-8 million, Velázquez’s Saint Rufina was one of only a handful of works by the artist ever to have come to auction. A work of particular intimacy and simplicity, Saint Rufina may even have reflected the likeness of one of the artist’s own daughters, Francisca or Ignacia, who were aged around twelve and fourteen years old when the painting was executed in the early 1630s. The painting was purchased by the Focus-Abengoa Foundation from Seville, the painter’s birthplace.
Following the sale, Anabel Morillo León, the Managing Director of the foundation said “We are absolutely delighted to have had the opportunity to bring the painting back to Seville, and to its people, who have shown such interest in this image of the city’s patron saint. The success of this joint effort between the Town Hall and the Focus Abengoa Foundation is a model of cooperation that will benefit the city of Seville.”
“The Town Hall and the Focus-Abengoa Foundation have reached an understanding to work together to promote Velázquez’s oeuvre for 75 years. This agreement will encompass the creation of a centre to house the work by the artist, including Santa Rufina and La imposición de la Casulla a San Ildefonso, as well as a library and documentation centre on the life of this painter who is so important to the people of Seville.”
The sale of Saint Rufina came hot on the heels of the Ullens Collection. Spanning 44 years of Turner’s career, the 14 works offered this evening represented the finest group of watercolours by the artist to have come to the market since the 1920s. The highest price among them was for a magnificent, loosely drawn view of Lungernsee, which made £3,604,000 ($7,277,918) – the second highest price for a British watercolour at auction after The Blue Rigi. Also hotly contested was Venice: Looking towards the Dogana and San Giorgio Maggiore, with a storm approaching, which made £2,988,000 ($6,033,967) against an estimate of just £800,000- £1,200,000. The £916,000 ($1,849,770) achieved for The Lake of Thun, Switzerland of 1802 was also an extremely high price for an early work by Turner.
After the sale, Baron Guy Ullens said: “The decision to part with the Turner watercolours was a difficult one. My wife Myriam and I have enjoyed the privilege of living surrounded by Turner’s genius for many years, and their absence now will be acute. But parting with these wonderful works has been made easier because of the knowledge that they will now be enjoyed by other collectors. The success of this evening’s sale means that we now have the additional resources we need to pursue a dream that Myriam and I both treasure: the building of a museum for Contemporary Art in Beijing.”
Henry Wemyss and Emmeline Hallmark, specialists in charge of the sale of the Ullens collection, said: “Tonight, we proved that we have broadened the market for Turner. Of the bidders this evening, only two had been previously associated with Turner. Our marketing programme was designed to attract new people and that it just what it did: with our extensive travelling exhibition we have shown Turner’s work to collectors of Impressionist, Contemporary and Chinese art across the world.”
Aside from the record price for the Velázquez, eight further auction records were achieved this evening, with 65.8% of the lots sold realizing prices in excess above the high estimate. Among the most notable new records was that for a work by Jan Brueghel the Elder, whose harrowing depiction of hell (Aeneas and the Sybil in the Underworld) realised £1,924,000 ($17,003,348 ).Unrecorded until its rediscovery in 2001, the work was the only known example of the artist’s famous hell scenes remaining in private hands.
A number of works sold for multiple factor of their pre-sale estimates, including lot 15 - a beautiful, near contemporary portrayal of Mary of Burgundy in the guise of Mary Magdalene –which sold selling for £804,000 ($1,623,598) - over ten times its pre-sale high estimate.