The portrait that a private collection recently deposited temporarily in the Goya Collection Ibercaja Museum may be the bargain of the century. And it is that, according to Mutualart, a specialized website that offers dealers, gallery owners and collectors data and award prices of auctions held around the world, the painting was sold in October 2016 for just €1,200.
The work was listed as lot 1,509 in the session held on October 26 of that year in the Barcelona Balclis hall, one of the most prestigious in Spain. But the painting, an oil on canvas measuring 52.5 by 43 centimeters, it was then presented simply as a ‘Portrait of a young man, 18th century’ by anonymous author (‘French school’). There was no specialist who had identified the piece as the work of Francisco de Goya.
That came shortly after. “I discovered the painting in the spring of 2017, when the owners invited me to see it,” the art historian confessed a few days ago. Arturo Ansón, author of the study that links him to the artist from Fuendetodos, in the presentation of the canvas in Zaragoza-. It was not yet cleaned, but from the first moment I saw that it was a very important work. Cleaning revealed that its state of preservation is actually very good. The original format of the painting should have been octagonal, but at some point in the 19th century they rearranged it to a rectangular format”. From his words it can be deduced that the owners of the painting, after acquiring it, wanted to consult a specialist because they suspected that it was something more than a simple “French school” portrait, and surely they suspected that it was more important than it seemed before they even acquired it.
In that same 2017, a technical analysis was carried out at the Arte-Lab studio in Madrid, according to Arturo Ansón in the 30-page report that was published to welcome the painting to Zaragoza. According to the aforementioned analysis, two microsamples of paint were extracted from the painting, on the shirt collar and on the tie of the portrayed character. The chemical analysis of them revealed that the characteristics of the work coincide “with the usual way of preparing the canvas in a painter like Goya” and that “it can be seen in the canvases he painted for Don Luis de Borbón during his stays in Arenas de San Pedro in 1783 and 1784”. In addition, Arturo Ansón assured that “the treatment of the neck and the bow tie, with slightly pasted brushstrokes and given with rapid applications, with a foaming effect, is typical of Goya. No other painter of the time did it like that.” The art historian, in his study, cites other portraits in which the same technique can be seen, such as those of the infante don Luis de Borbón, Mariano Ferrer y Aulet, Luis Antonio de Borbón y Ballabriga or Ventura Rodríguez, among others. “The styles are clear and appeal to Goya,” he concluded.
The painting was also identified by Ansón as a Portrait of José María Álvarez de Toledo Osorio y Gonzaga (1756-1796), Duke of Alba. Until now, two portraits made by Goya of this character were known. One of them, half-length, is exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago. Another, full-length, is in the Prado Museum in Madrid.
The one now in Zaragoza is, according to this specialist, the first of the three, and could date from around 1783. In that year Goya was working painting cartoons for the Royal Tapestry Factory of Santa Bárbara and had just been admitted to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando (1780), of which the Duke of Alba was its youngest patron.
Balclis refused this Wednesday to give information about the 2016 sale, invoking the Data Protection law, while assuring that these cases are not rare in the auction market. “We can’t talk about the origin or the buyer –assured Enrique Carranco, head of the Department of Painting and Sculpture of Balclis–. But these things happen: there is the recent case of a Caravaggio in Madrid”. He was thus referring to an anonymous ‘Ecce Homo’ that was going to be auctioned in March 2021 with a starting price of 1,500 euros, and that, before the session, had already received several million dollar bids in writing.This warned that it had to be a more important work than it seemed.Specialists later attributed it to Caravaggio.