Spanish aristocrats go to war over £22m sale of Constable painting

Baroness says euro crisis forced her to get rid of heirloom – but relatives dispute claim

The sale of one of John Constable’s finest works, an idyllic depiction of rural Suffolk, has provoked a bitter dispute among members of one of Europe’s most flamboyant aristocratic families.

The Lock, painted in 1824, was sent for auction by Spanish socialite Barones s Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, who says she is a victim of Spain’s economic crisis and must sell the work to raise funds.

The Baroness, a former Miss Spain, owns four luxury villas as well as an art collection which includes eight Gauguins and a Picasso. But her decision has led to a family rift and the resignation of one of the trustees of her museum in Madrid.

Constable’s oil on canvas masterpiece went under the hammer at the Christie’s Old Master and British Paintings sale in London last night and went for £22.4 million to an unknown buyer - a record amount for the artist and among the top five prices ever paid for an Old Master in Britain.

The Lock is one of six large-scale canvases of the River Stour, also including The Hay Wain, that Constable exhibited to acclaim at the Royal Academy in London between 1819 and 1825. It was bought by the Baroness’ late husband, Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, in 1990 for £10.8m, then a record for a British painting.

Its sale last night infuriated the Baroness’s step-daughter, Francesca Von Habsburg, who said her late father, a renowned art collector, would never have agreed to it. “The proposed sale is entirely self-serving and should not go ahead. She [the Baroness] likes to pretend she is a typical Spanish citizen who is struggling just like everyone else but that could not be further from the truth.”

The sale prompted Sir Norman Rosenthal, former exhibitions director at the Royal Academy, to resign as trustee of the Baroness’ Madrid museum. He said it was “morally shameful” and accused the 69-year-old Baroness, known as “Tita”, of having no understanding of either art history or art appreciation.

The billionaire Baron had agreed to cede his collection of 1,600 paintings to the Spanish state, upon his death, aged 81, in 2002. They are housed in the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum in Madrid.

However the Baroness, his fifth wife, kept 250 works worth £700m, including The Lock, in her private collection which she loans to Spanish museums without receiving any income. The Spanish government, currently securing a €100bn eurozone bail-out, rejected her request for state-funded compensation.

“This sale is a small inject ion of cash in my accounts,” said the Baroness, who owns a 175ft yacht and employs about 80 staff. “Keeping the collection here is costly to me, and I get nothing in return.”

“Tita” is battling on all fronts to preserve her late husband’s €2.5bn inheritance. Her son, Borja, who was adopted by the Baron, is suing her for a share of the art collection after mother and son argued over his choice of wife. As for Francesca’s claim that she is “isolated from reality”, the Baroness says: “Besides getting furious, she can’t do anything about it.”

The £22.4m sale price is likely to put The Lock beyond the means of a UK institution hoping to return the work to Britain.

ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Primary Teachers Needed for Supply in Wakefield

£140 - £160 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1&2 Supply Te...

Corporate Commercial Solicitor

£45000 - £65000 per annum + Excellent: Austen Lloyd: Corporate Commercial Soli...

Year 3 Primary Teacher - Dewsbury

£110 - £155 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: An excellent, last minute opp...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam