Spanish queen portrait expected to smash Velázquez auction record

A full-length portrait of a Spanish queen by Diego Velázquez is expected to smash the existing record for a work by the 17th-century artist when it is auctioned early next year.

Isabel de Borbón, Queen of Spain is valued in the region of $35m (£27.8m), more than double the current $16.9m auction record for a Velázquez.

The 2-metre-high canvas depicts Isabel aged about 30 in a highly decorated black court dress, holding a fan in one hand with the other resting on the back of a chair. At the time of the painting she was at the height of her powers, admired for her wit, intelligence and generous spirit.

King Philip IV of Spain and Portugal had appointed Velázquez as a court painter, and a large proportion of his work consisted of royal portraits of the king, his family, their court jesters and dwarfs.

The portrait hung for many years at the Buen Retiro Palace in Madrid. It later went to France, and in the 19th century was sold to Henry Huth, a merchant banker and book collector, who hung it at Wykehurst Park in Sussex, England. It has since been in private collections, and with its current owners since 1978.

“This exceptional painting is remarkable not just for its beauty and quality, but also for its scale and subject matter,” said George Wachter, the Sotheby’s chair and co-worldwide head of old master paintings.

“Royal portraiture allowed Velázquez to push forward art in new and revolutionary ways and this grand portrayal of Isabel de Borbón is an exceptional example of the artist at the height of his powers, shaping the direction of portraiture for generations to follow. No other Velázquez paintings of this scale and importance have come to the market in more than half a century.”