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.
“The discovery of this lost treasure is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it is tremendously exciting to be able to bring it to the world’s attention,” said Andrew McKenzie, director of old master paintings at Bonhams.
The work is expected to sell for 2-3 million pounds at Bonhams’ old master paintings auction on Wednesday.
On the same day, Sotheby’s holds its main London sale of old master and British paintings, and expects “The Card Players in an Interior” by 17th Dutch artist Jan Steen to be the top lot at 4.5-6.0 million pounds.
A pair of works by 18th century painter Johann Zoffany commissioned by British actor David Garrick, which are being offered as a single lot, have a combined value of 6-8 million pounds.
Sotheby’s expects to raise over 21 million pounds from the main auction and a smaller day sale on Thursday.
Christie’s holds its main old master auction later on Tuesday and has set a pre-sale estimate of 18-26 million pounds.
Like Bonhams, its star work is a Spanish painting, this time by Francisco Goya, whose “Portrait of Juan López de Robredo” is being offered at auction for the first time in nearly 20 years and is set to fetch 4-6 million pounds.
Another highlight is “The Battle between Carnival and Lent” by Pieter Brueghel II estimated at 3.5-4.5 million pounds.
Editing by Steve Addison