Portrait of a Lady by Peter Paul Rubens sold for PLN 14.4 million (EUR 3.1 million/USD 3.4 million, including selling costs) at Thursday’s auction of Old Masters, 19th Century Art and of modern art at DESA Unicum, becoming the most expensive work of art ever sold on the Polish market. The result far surpassed the Warsaw auction house’s previous record for two married women by Andrzej Wróblewski, which fetched a price of PLN 13.44 million at an auction on November 30, 2021.
It was the most anticipated auction in the history of the Polish art market. For the first time, a work by Rubens, one of the most famous artists in the world, appeared on the Polish market. The painting is of superb provenance and represents a young woman with black eyes and hair, dressed in a black velvet dress. For over 300 years the work was believed to be a portrait of Isabella Brant, Rubens’ first wife, but it is now believed to represent one of his sisters. According to another hypothesis, the model belongs to the Duarte family, influential Jewish jewelers from Antwerp in the 17th century. This can be supported by the characteristic gemstones that are part of the woman’s outfit.
A recently completed conservation exercise, technical review and stylistic attribution research by the Courtauld Institute and others have confirmed Rubens’ work, with input from his workshop. Research has also determined that this portrait exhibits a higher quality of execution than the other two extant versions of the work in the Mauritshuis in The Hague and the Wallace Collection in London.
The portrait of Rubens sold by DESA Unicum has a well-documented history, from its release from the artist’s studio in Antwerp around 1626 to the present day. One of the first owners of the canvas was Sir Peter Lely, friend of Rubens and art collector. Then, for two centuries, the painting was found in Stowe House, in the collection of the Dukes of Buckingham and Chandos. Sold at Christie’s in London in 1848, in the middle of the 20th century Portrait of a Lady was part of the Parisian collection of the family of Egyptian Prince Mohammed Ali Ibrahim and Princess Hanzade, where it remained until 2011. The last time it was seen on display was in Brussels in 1965.
Portraits painted by Rubens rarely appear at auction. In July 2020 Portrait of a young woman holding a chain was sold at Christie’s for nearly £4 million, and three years earlier Sotheby’s showed Portrait of a lady in a black dress and coat, in front of a red drapery, which eventually sold for £3 million. Since 2002, the Flemish artist’s most expensive work remains the monumental canvas The Slaughter of the Innocentssold at Sotheby’s for £49.5 million, eight times the high estimate, followed by the painting Lot and his daughterswhich a buyer paid £44.88million for in 2016.
Juliusz Windorbski, CEO of DESA SA, said: “We have worked for a long time to have this painting appear in our auction. The sale of a work of this rank and value at an auction in Poland is an event of undeniable importance, testifying to the rise of our art market, which is catching up with Western markets. more mature. We are convinced that the Polish art market has enormous potential and investing in masterpieces of painting or sculpture will continue to grow in importance, despite the current difficult geopolitical situation.