For the first time in almost four centuries, an intriguing Gentileschi portrait from Charles I’s ‘lost’ art collection will come to auction.
One of the beheaded King’s favourite works – it has the kudos of having hung in his private quarters at Whitehall – Head of a Woman appears to have been drastically censored. An inventory of the King’s collection, drawn up between 1637 and 1639, describes ‘the Picture of a woeman with her left breast naked her right breast covered with a part of her Smock’. Since then, the panel has been reduced – probably by a later, more prudish owner.
As one of 1,300 paintings seized and sold by Oliver Cromwell’s government following the King’s execution for treason in 1649, it’s had a tumultuous history. The works were moved from the Royal Palaces to Somerset House, where they were sorted and designated for sale – and where Head of a Woman was acquired by Robert Houghton of Southwark in London, “gentleman and brewer to the late King”, in lieu of debts owed to him by Charles. Houghton apparently also purchased a set of tapestries, and Raphael’s Acts of the Apostles, which had been a gift to King Henry VIII from Pope Leo X. He later sold them to the Spanish Ambassador for the princely sum of £4,429.
Following Charles II’s Restoration, several works in the collection were reunited – but Head of a Woman was not among them. In fact it did not resurface again for 300 years: in 1930 it appeared in an exhibition at the Royal Academy.
Estimated at between $2 million and $3 million, Head of a Woman will be offered at Sotheby’s New York on January 25. Visit the Sotheby’s website for further information.