Lot 6
  • 6

Sir Peter Paul Rubens

400,000 - 600,000 GBP
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  • Sir Peter Paul Rubens
  • Portrait of a gentleman, half-length, wearing black
  • oil on canvas, transferred to canvas


Monsieur Nieuwenhuys;

Acquired from the above on 10 June 1846 by Jules-Paul-Benjamin Delessert (1773-1847);

Thence by inheritance to his brother François-Marie Delessert (1780-1868);

His deceased sale, Paris, Hôtel Delessert, 15 March 1869, lot 78, for FF4,100 (as Pierre Paul Rubens);

At which point presumably passing into the Hottinguer family, probably through being acquired at the above sale by Caroline Hottinguer, née Delessert, widow (m. 1858) of the late Baron Henri Hottinguer (1803-66), daughter of François Dellessert and last in line of the Delessert dynasty;

Thence by descent in the collection of the Barons Hottinguer until sold ('Ancienne Collection du Baron Hottinguer'), Paris, Christie's, 2 December 2003, lot 140 (as Circle of Rubens);

Acquired shortly after the sale by the present owner.


F. Delessert, Notice sur la collection de tableaux de M. Delessert, Paris 1846, p. 58, cat. no. 152 (as Rubens);

F. Delessert, Catalogue des Tableaux de M. François Delessert, Paris n.d., p. 62, cat. no. 156 (as Rubens);

C. Blanc, 'La Galerie Delessert,' in Gazette des Beaux-Arts, Paris, February-March 1969, pp.105-201.


The following condition report is provided by Sarah Walden who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: This painting was transferred from a previous canvas apparently in France in the nineteenth century. Transferring paintings to another canvas was a practice developed in France in the nineteenth century. It emerges that it was painted over a portrait seemingly of King Philip IV of Spain or his brother Don Carlos that has recently been revealed by X-ray. The comparatively recent lining is on a strong, old stretcher with a seal. There is a fairly distinct horizontal craquelure across the paint surface. The warm ground has been proved by a cross section to be overlaid with a second layer of cool grey. The present restoration is quite recent. A film of older varnish has been left in the background, with one or two rather older surface retouchings visible under ultra violet light : one in the upper left background, another lower down on the left and one other in the drapery at lower centre. More recent retouching is clear along narrow bands at the upper and right edges, with a little also by the left base corner. Other small touches are scattered within the head itself, as so often in the darker areas which tend to be more vulnerable over time and are rather thinner. Places such as the eye sockets, the hair line, the shadowy lower left side of the face and around the mouth, moustache and beard. There may be very much older strengthening touches in some of these places. The lighter internal modelling of the face remains beautifully preserved virtually throughout, with rich impasted brushwork, and there is little trace of damage from the transfer. The hair seems better preserved than the beard and moustache, with the outer background perhaps showing traces of early change in the shadows or fall of light around the head. Much may have happened over time, and within such a double painting conceived and constructed one after the other apparently in rapid succession. The powerful impact of the portrait still seems to retain elements from both artists. This report was not done under laboratory conditions.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

This remarkable portrait can be dated with some certainty to Rubens’ second visit to Spain in 1628/9 and is the only surviving work that provides a clear link between Rubens and the great Spanish master Diego Velazquez, as attested by the results of recent technical analysis.

Rubens' first trip to the Court of Madrid took place in 1603 when as a young man and emerging artist he was charged with delivering a group of paintings as gifts to Philip III by his employer and patron Vincenzo Gonzaga I, Duke of Mantua. By the time of his second trip in 1628 however Rubens enjoyed considerable reputation and fame and was invited at the behest of Philip IV to assist in the negotiation of peace between Spain and England, as well as to paint a number of royal portraits for his patron the Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia, aunt of Philip IV's oldest brother the Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand.

The proposed dating of the present work to Rubens' second trip to Spain is supported by the recent discovery of another image beneath the existing paint layers representing either Philip IV (1605 - 1665) or his youngest brother Don Carlos (1607 - 1632), which  appears to be of high quality and is clearly in the style of Velazquez, who since 1623 had been working in the employ of the Spanish King (see fig. 1). Intriguingly, no protoype of the hidden portrait by Velazquez is known today.

The physiognomy of the sitter visible in the x-radiograph image can be compared closely to Velazquez's bust length depiction of Philip IV in armour and a full-length portrait of the Infante Don Carlos, both today at the Prado, which are dated to around the same year that Rubens was in Madrid, when the Royal sitters were aged 23 and 21 respectively.1 That the age of the sitter in the hidden portrait corroborates closely with that in Velazquez's two aforementioned portraits clearly supports a likely date of execution for the underlying portrait to around 1628, precisely when Rubens was in Madrid and had access to Velazquez's studio in the Royal Palace, where he could have reused an existing canvas to produce the present portrait.

With regard to the execution of the painting, Rubens has adhered closely to the outlines of the figure in the underlying image, whilst altering the features of the sitter and adapting and developing the image through his own idiom and style, so that with the exception of the soft handling of the sitter’s ear - highly reminiscent of the style of Velazquez - there remains little trace of the Spanish prototype. Rubens has also moved the position of the collar (today visible as a pentimento as well as in the x-radiograph) and covered over what appears to be the outline of a hand in the lower left corner of the underlying image.

Recent technical analysis also reveals that the painting has been transposed to a later canvas, probably during the last quarter of the 19th century, a technique that was widely employed in France where the work is known to have been during that period. An analysis of the ground layers also provides an interesting insight into the likely development of the image as two layers of preparation exist: an original base layer of red, or roja de tierras, typical for works prepared in Madrid during the 17th century, covered by a clear grey preparation more in keeping with Flemish practice. Both paint layers however are both painted on top of the grey preparation, indicating the first artist preferred the use of a cooler ground for the image, yet notably there are no clear signs of separation between the two paint layers, further suggesting that Rubens merely adapted the original design and seemingly soon after the underlying image had been painted.

Just how close relations were between Rubens and Velazquez during the former’s second visit to Spain remains unknown. In a letter to his friend Peiresc, Rubens records that he was lodged in the Royal Alcázar during his stay in Madrid, where Velazquez is known to have worked, and furthermore it is recorded that the two artists journeyed to the Escorial together to see the celebrated works by Titian. The emergence of this portrait and the discovery of the underlying image would seem to provide further evidence of a close link between Rubens and Velazquez, even directly within the latter's own atelier. As to the possible identity of the sitter, most plausibly the portrait represents an important member of the court of Madrid, although it is tempting to surmise that Rubens may have been painting a portrait of Velazquez himself - a notion that is lent some considerable support by the likeness of the sitter to both the putative self-portrait by Velázquez in the Surrender at Breda, painted some six to seven years later in 1634-5, and the recently upgraded portrait in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 2

Nieuwenhuys was one of the most successful dealerships on the continent in the 19th century. Chrétien Jean Nieuwenhuys was the main advisor and buyer for King Willem II of the Netherlands. His father Lambert had set up the business in 1805 in Brussels, and when Chrétien Jean died it was taken over by Charles Sedelmeyer (1837-1925), operating from Paris. 

1. See F. Checa, Velazquez, The Complete Paintings, Antwerp 2008, p. 93, no. 24, reproduced and pp. 94-95, no. 25, reproduced respectively.
2. See J. López Rey, Velázquez, Cologne 1996, vol. II, pp. 180-3, no. 73, reproduced p. 181 and opposite ‘Contents’ (detail of the putative self-portrait).