LONDON - Art critic Waldemar Januszczak has written, “I actually do not think Hilary Mantel would have written Wolf Hall if Holbein had not made something so memorable, so tangible, so wickedly fascinating of Henry VIII.” This magnificent portrait of Henry VIII is surely the finest known version of the last great image of the king produced by his celebrated court painter Hans Holbein the Younger.


WORKSHOP OF HANS HOLBEIN THE YOUNGER, PORTRAIT OF KING HENRY VIII (1491–1547). ESTIMATE £800,000–1,200,000.

By the time this portrait was painted in the early 1540s Holbein had been in the service of the English crown for fifteen years and a Court painter for six. His influence upon portraiture at the English Court was profound, for it was during Holbein’s time in England that the concept of the royal portrait as a potent image and symbol of the monarch was first truly developed. Painted circa 1542, this likeness of the king was to be the last royal image to issue from Holbein’s studio, for the following autumn he himself had died from the plague in London. Henry VIII recognised the power of Holbein’s unique talent, and said himself, “I could make seven earls from seven peasants if it pleased me, but I could not make one Hans Holbein, or so excellent an artist, out of seven earls.” 

Some three hundred years after it was painted, its likeness had not lost its power to impress. The great German art historian Gustav Waagen, who saw it in 1835, remarked: “There is in these features a brutal egotism, an obstinacy, and a harshness of feeling, such as I have never yet seen in any human countenance. In the eyes, too, there is the suspicious watchfulness of a wild beast, so that I became quite uncomfortable from looking at it a long time; for the picture, a masterpiece of Holbein, is as true in the smallest details as if the king himself stood before you.”


[ANNE OF CLEVES] DOROTHEA OF DENMARK, LETTER SIGNED BY DOROTHEA OF DENMARK, ELECTRESS PALATINE ("DOROTHEA"), TO ANNE OF CLEVES ("ANNEN KONIGIN ZU INGELLANT"). ESTIMATE £4,000–5,000.

Henry’s presence can be felt in the Music & Continental Books and Manuscripts sale on 7 December with an important letter written to his fourth wife Anne of Cleves. Written by Dorothea of Denmark, wife of Elector Frederick II of the Palatinate, only a few days before Anne and Henry VIII’s wedding in Greenwich on 6 January 1540, it is a request for Anne to ask Henry to assist with the release of Dorothea’s father, Christian II of Denmark, from prison. Deposed by his uncle, the future King Frederick I, in 1523, by the time the letter was written, Christian II had already spent seven years in prison, and despite Dorothea’s attempts he died there in 1559.

Old Master & British Paintings Evening Sale

09 December 2015 | London