Rediscovered Velazquez among old masters for sale

Tue Dec 6, 2011 6:17am EST
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - Booming art prices have produced plenty of "treasures in the attic" of late, and this week could see another when a painting first valued at 300 pounds ($470) is set to fetch up to three million after Bonhams discovered it was by Velazquez.

The portrait of an unknown gentleman goes under the hammer on Wednesday, as London hosts a series of old master and British art auctions featuring works worth tens of millions of pounds.

While the newly discovered Velazquez is not the most valuable lot on offer at Christie's, Sotheby's and Bonhams, its story is arguably the most arresting.

The painting of a balding man in black tunic and white "golilla" collar was part of a small collection of works attributed to 19th century British painter Matthew Shepperson which was consigned for sale at Bonhams in Oxford.

But the auctioneer suspected the portrait was by a different artist and had it sent to the Old Master Paintings department in London for further analysis.

Consultant Brian Koetser was brought in and their suspicions were confirmed by Peter Cherry, lecturer at the History of Art department at Trinity College Dublin who Bonhams called "one of the world's foremost authorities on Velazquez and his school."

After studying the painting, including with x-ray technology, Cherry decided it was by 17th century Spanish master Diego Velazquez and dated from 1631-1634 when the artist was in Italy or shortly after he returned to Spain.

It is one of 100 works by the artist known to exist, of which only a handful remain in private hands.   Continued...