The painting of a gaucho on horseback, identified late last year by Toovey’s fine art consultant Tim Williams, had carried a pre-sale estimate of £80,000-120,000.
In the country of his birth, Blanes is renowned for painting the scenes and events that shaped the national identity during the years of conf lict that resulted in independence from Spain.
The national gallery in Montevideo is named Museo del Bellas Artes Juan Manuel Blanes and houses the largest collection of the artist’s work.
Williams’ research revealed this painting’s full provenance. The first owner of the 3ft 9in x 4ft 4in (1.12 x 1.28m) canvas was the Spanish aristocrat Baldomero Hyacinth de Bertodano, 7th Marquis de Moral. He lived at Cowbridge House near Malmsbury in Wiltshire and the painting hung there until his death in 1921.
When the contents of Cowbridge House were auctioned to divide the estate, the painting in its Watts style frame was described as ‘A fine Oil Painting, The Gaucho on the Pampas in Argentine about 52 by 46 ins’.
At that sale Baldomero’s brother, Charles Edmund de Bertodano, a notable railway engineer, purchased the painting and it remained with his family to the present day.
By 1971, when the painting was cleaned, its significance had been lost with the artist listed simply as ‘signed JMB’.
Despite the reference to Argentina in the Cowbridge House catalogue, the painting in fact shows a Uruguayan prairie and one of the rugged horsemen whose lives embodied the South American ‘Wild West’. It is part of a celebrated series of ‘equestrian gauchos’ painted by Blanes from 1875-78.
Williams told ATG: “I was initially shown an image of it on a mobile phone along with a copy of an insurance valuation done about 10-15 years ago.
“The vendor and valuer at the time had no idea of the identity of the artist but this is probably Juan Manuel Blanes’ best work, larger and more animated than a sister painting (titled Auroa or Entre dos Iuces) that made $905,000 [including premium, at Christie’s New York in November 2014].
“It must be one of the most important Latin American paintings to have ever emerged from the woodwork.”
Prior to the sale, news of the painting’s discovery – and its full authentication by the Latin American art historian Gabriel Peluffo Linari – had reached Montevideo.
It appeared on the front page of the Uruguayan national newspaper El País.
On sale day in Washington, West Sussex, a bank of phones and a number of bidders in the room prepared to contest the picture.
However, from early on the bidding was between a single phone bidder and a Uruguayan private collector in the room, who eventually won at a price that with 24.5% buyer’s premium added was just under £1.5m
Toovey’s chairman, Rupert Toovey said “I have known the painting [as an unattributed work] for many years but congratulations must go to Tim Williams whose exceptional research and tenacity in contacting collectors across the world has made this remarkable result possible.”
The firm’s previous house record was the £520,000 bid in 2014 for a Qianlong famille rose and calligraphic vase.