Pair of Goyas found by accident fetch $4 million

Sunday, May 11, 2003

— Two small paintings by the Spanish master Francisco de Goya that caught an art expert's eye by chance have been auctioned for $2 million apiece.

The Spanish government quickly snapped them up following the Thursday auction by matching the bids, exercising its right to acquire historic artworks under laws governing Spain's cultural heritage.

Bidding started at $1.75 million for each of the unsigned, oil-on-canvas religious paintings that measure 25-by-21 inches. "Sagrada Familia" ("Holy Family") and "Tobias y el Angel" ("Tobias and the Angel") are believed to have been painted in 1787.

The auction house, Alcala Subastas, said it stumbled across the paintings in February when Richard de Willermin, its expert on Spanish and Italian art of the 17th and 18th centuries, went to a home in Madrid to appraise some other works and noticed one of the Goyas hanging in a hallway.

"The owners had absolutely no idea what they had on their hands," said Alcala Subastas official Raquel Lombas. "Richard knew right away."

The owners told him that if he liked that one, there was a similar one on a bedroom wall.

Eight experts at Madrid's Prado Museum examined the paintings for 10 days in March, but would not publicly comment on the authenticity before the auction.

"If there was any remaining doubt, now it is gone," Lombas said.

Lombas would not say who made the top offer; the government has two years to pay for the paintings.

Goya was a prolific artist who lived from 1746 to 1828 and was an official painter to the Spanish royal court. He is known for his scenes of everyday Spanish life, and his masterpiece paintings include "The Naked Maja," which hangs in the Prado.