As It Happens

Rare set of Goya bullfighting etchings discovered in French castle

A set of etchings by Spanish artist Francisco Goya has been found in an old, forgotten ledger in a French castle. Severine Nackers of Sotheby's calls the discovery 'a treasure.'
A rare set of etchings by Spanish artist Francisco Goya have been discovered in a French castle. (Séverine Nackers)

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A set of rare etchings by Spanish artist Francisco Goya has been discovered in an old, forgotten ledger in a French castle's after some 200 years. 

The owners of the Château de Montigny, in Eure-et-Loir, France, happened upon the mint-condition set of Goya's famous 1815-16 La Tauromaquia bullfighting etchings buried under 90 French military watercolours in a nondescript ledger. They were hidden behind a row of books in the castle's library.

The history behind this set is unmatchable.-  Séverine   Nackers , Sotheby's London

"You have this treasure hidden in this album," Séverine Nackers, head of prints at Sotheby's in London, told As It Happens host Carol Off.

Goya only made 33 bullfighting etchings in his series called La Tauromaquia. (Séverine Nackers)

Sotheby's is putting the prints up for auction on April 4, valued at upwards of $820,000 Cdn. Even that may be a conservative estimate, as another La Tauromaquia set sold at Christie's New York for $1.9 million US in 2013.

This set could be even more valuable, Nackers said. 

"There's the rarity of the Tauromaquia, and of course the subject matter, but to add to all of this, there's the story of how it came for sale," she said.  "The history behind this set is unmatchable."

Nackers said the etchings were most likely acquired as a diplomatic gift by the castle's former resident, Duke Anne-Adrien-Pierre de Montmorency-Laval, while he served as ambassador to Madrid between 1814 and 1823.

"It's  been in the castle ever since, but I think the family forgot about this set," Nackers said. 

La Tauromaquia etchings are rare and valuable, and these are in 'very, very fine condition,' according to Sotheby's head of prints. (Séverine Nackers)

Thanks to that forgetfulness, the almost untouched art is in "very, very fine condition," she said. 

"It was hidden behind a row of books and it's only when they actually asked someone to do the inventory of the library that it got rediscovered."

Goya was said to have been fascinated by bullfighting. He created 33 sketches exploring the Spanish event while working on his renowned Disasters of War paintings.

The latter were controversial at the time, whereas bullfighting was considered a "safe" topic and Goya could more easily sell the etchings, Nackers said.

"Unlike the Disasters of War, bullfighting wasn't such a sensitive subject," she said. 

Séverine Nackers of Sotheby's says the history of the Goya set cannot be matched. (Séverine Nackers)

Still, it wasn't all about making something he could easily sell. Nackers says there's no doubt Goya "loved the subject matter."

"Goya was always inspired by bullfighting. It was the subject of many of his works," she said, noting that he once painted himself sporting a matador's jacket.

Nackers  is keen to see what the set will fetch at auction.

"It's a niche market, but its one of these sets that can transcend collecting categories," she said. "At auction, as you know, all you need is two people."

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