A portrait of Katherine Parr, the last of King Henry VIII’s six wives, fetched an impressive £3,436,000 ($4,368,000), including premiums, at Sotheby’s London’s Old Master & 19th Century Paintings Evening Auction on July 5, marking a moment of excitement for the storied painting. While it was not the highest-earning lot of the evening, the final sale price soared past its high estimate (£800,000 or $1,015,000) by more than 400 percent, making it the widest margin by far.
Katherine Parr was Queen of England—the first to also be named Queen of Ireland, following King Henry VIII’s adoption of the title—from the time of her marriage to Henry in 1543 until his death in 1547. She was the final queen consort of the House of Tudor and outlived Henry by nearly two years. With four husbands, two before the king and one after, she continues to be the most-married English queen.
Attributed to Master John, this portrait was most likely painted in 1547–8, shortly after the King’s death, when her role became queen dowager rather than queen consort. Her position was solidified with an order from Henry that, upon his death, Katherine be given the full respect of a queen of England, as if he were still alive. The work is one of only two surviving portraits of Katherine Parr, the other being a full-length (ca. 1545) painting held in the National Portrait Gallery of London, also attributed to Master John.
Though it was thought to be destroyed by fire, the portrait emerged after almost 200 years since it was last offered at auction, according to Sotheby’s. The seller and the most recent owner is the estate of the Earl of Jersey, George Francis Child-Villiers, who died in 1998.
The painting has often been mistaken for others, including Queen Mary I and Lady Jane Grey. However, the sitter can be correctly identified from the distinctive piece of jewelry at her chest, a crown-shaped gold and pearl brooch that is recorded in inventories of Parr’s possessions.
As she is not among King Henry VIII’s beheaded wives, Katherine Parr is often overlooked in the annals of English history. However, her extraordinary life is gaining newfound attention with the recent release of the film Firebrand. Starring Jude Law and Alicia Vikander, the adaptation of the 2013 novel Queen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle premiered at the Cannes Film Festival this year.
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