At the heart of the lush Wildenstein collection, the mystery of the unknown Velazquez

By Roxana Azimi and Raphaëlle Bacqué

Posted today at 5:19 am, updated at 8:19 pm

The face seems to emerge from the shadows, as if the painter had suddenly raised a torch towards him, at the bend of a dark corridor. On discovering the canvas, this spring day in 1999, Antoine Van de Beuque immediately recognized the forehead high above drooping eyelids, the thick and red lips and this mustache whose raised ends almost tickle the cheekbones. No one is better identifiable than Philip IV of Spain (1605-1665), a poor sovereign but a great patron. What intrigued the art broker, however, was the painting itself. “He’s an unknown Velazquez, or at least from his workshop”, affirmed Edith A. confidently – she wishes to remain anonymous – by inviting the broker to come and see the canvas at Munigarde (renamed CC Art in 2018), the Crédit municipal conservation center, which houses in multiple vaults and vaults the works and objects of art entrusted to it in all discretion by private individuals.

The portrait, 57.2 cm by 50.5 cm, does not bear a signature, does not have any certificate. a “Unknown Velazquez”, Antoine Van de Beuque did not really believe it, when Edith A., an art lover doctor, told him about this painting which his friends want to get rid of. The owners, a French family from Meudon (Hauts-de-Seine) who have never collected, are claiming three and a half million francs (the equivalent of 711,000 euros today). For the canvas of an anonymous painter or even of Velazquez’s studio, it is paid dearly. Only, now that this king of Spain, who has emerged from the night, lights up before his eyes, the broker is much more hesitant. “I immediately thought that the portrait could indeed be by the hand of the most famous painter of the Spanish Golden Age”, recognizes Antoine Van de Beuque today in his beautiful apartment on the Monceau plain, in Paris.

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For twenty years, this painting has become his Grail and his hell … If everything had happened as he expected, Philippe IV on canvas would have made him rich. Now this elegant and cultured man believes he was the victim of a breach of trust and scam by Guy Wildenstein, one of the world’s most controversial art dealers. He plans to take legal action on this case.

From 1991 to 2001, Antoine Van de Beuque played the unearths of works on behalf of the latter’s father, Daniel Wildenstein, who had transformed the gallery founded in 1890 by his grandfather, Nathan, an Alsatian Jew himself. son of cattle dealers, in a multinational art company. The merchant is a notable, very introduced in the Parisian jet-set but also in London and New York. Beyond the mansions in Paris or Manhattan, the splendid ranch in Kenya, yachts, helicopters, thoroughbreds, his fortune stems above all from his extraordinary collection of paintings: more than ten thousand canvases, including twenty by Renoir, ten Van Goghs, as many by Cézanne and Gauguin, two Botticelli, eight Rembrandts, nine Greco, five Tintoretto. Not to mention a hundred paintings by Pierre Bonnard.

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