IT could have been one of the sleepers of the century had it not been recognised and swiftly withdrawn from a Bonhams Oxford auction.
Originally catalogued as a 'Portrait of a Gentleman' and
attributed to a minor 19th century British artist, the 18½ x 15½in
(47 x 39cm) oil on canvas portrait, was brought to the attention of
the auctioneers' Old Master department in London and will now be
the highlight of their auction in New Bond Street on December 7
with a £2m-3m estimate.
It was part of a consignment of pictures from a direct
descendant of the artist Matthew Shepperson (1785-1874). He was
best known as a copyist - his version of John Hoppner's portrait of
Nelson, for instance, is in the National Maritime Museum in
The other works consigned to Bonhams included pictures by
Shepperson which each made under £500 at the Oxford sale in August
2010, but the saleroom's specialists soon realised this portrait
was in fact a 17th century picture of outstanding quality.
The auctioneers' research over the next 14 months has now led to
a confident attribution to Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez
(1599-1660), which has been confirmed by Dr Peter Cherry, one of
the authorities on the Spanish master and his school, and by Carmen
Garrido, head of technical services at the Prado Museum in
Bonhams' director of Old Master Paintings Andrew McKenzie said:
"It is wholly in the artists' hand and is in as good condition as
you could ask for."