Saint Rufina was one of only a handful of works by the artist ever to have come to auction. A work of particular intimacy and simplicity, Saint Rufina may even have reflected the likeness of one of the artist’s own daughters, Francisca or Ignacia, who were aged around twelve and fourteen years old when the painting was executed in the early 1630s.
The good news is that the painting was bought by the Focus Abengoa Foundation from Seville, the painter’s birthplace.Alex Bell, head of Sotheby’s Old Master Paintings department in London, said: “I am thrilled that this beautiful portrait of Seville’s patron saint has found a permanent home in the artist’s birthplace.”
Following the sale, Anabel Morillo León, the Managing Director of the foundation said “We are absolutely delighted to have had the opportunity to bring the painting back to Seville, and to its people, who have shown such interest in this image of the city’s patron saint. The success of this joint effort between the Town Hall and the Focus Abengoa Foundation is a model of cooperation that will benefit the city of Seville.” “The Town Hall and the Focus-Abengoa Foundation have reached an understanding to work together to promote Velázquez’s oeuvre for 75 years. This agreement will encompass the creation of a centre to house the work by the artist, including Santa Rufina and La imposición de la Casulla a San Ildefonso, as well as a library and documentation centre on the life of this painter who is so important to the people of Seville.”
While Saint Rufina was the highlight of Sotheby’s evening sale of Old Master Paintings, the auction began with the sale of Turner watercolours from the collection of Guy and Myriam Ullens. Spanning 44 years of Turner’s career, the 14 works offered represented the finest group of watercolours by the artist to have come to the market since the 1920s.
After the sale, Baron Guy Ullens said: “The decision to part with the Turner watercolours was a difficult one. My wife Myriam and I have enjoyed the privilege of living surrounded by Turner’s genius for many years, and their absence now will be acute. But parting with these wonderful works has been made easier because of the knowledge that they will now be enjoyed by other collectors. The success of this evening’s sale means that we now have the additional resources we need to pursue a dream that Myriam and I both treasure: the building of a museum for Contemporary Art in Beijing.”
Aside from the record price for the Velázquez, eight further auction records were achieved,. Among the most notable new records was that for a work by Jan Brueghel the Elder, whose harrowing depiction of hell (Aeneas and the Sybil in the Underworld) realised £1,924,000 (17,003,348 ). Unrecorded until its rediscovery in 2001, the work was the only known example of the artist’s famous hell scenes remaining in private hands.