A Rare Portrait of Henry VIII’s Sixth Wife Breaks Auction Records

A 16th century oil portrait of Katherine Parr has become the most valuable Tudor painting.

A rare portrait of Katherine Parr, the sixth wife of Henry VIII and an accomplished woman in her own right, shattered records yesterday (June 5) to become the most expensive Tudor painting of all time. Selling to a U.K. collector at Sotheby's Old Master & 19th Century Paintings Evening Auction, the work realized $4.4 million, more than four times its initial high estimate.

Tudor style portrait of pale woman in dark robe posing with hands clasped
A portrait of Katherine Parr fetched millions at a Sotheby’s auction. Courtesy of Sotheby's

Attributed to an unknown painter referred to as “Master John,” the work was mistakenly recorded as having been destroyed by a fire in 1969. The dark-toned oil painting’s appearance at Sotheby’s marks its first appearance at auction in nearly 200 years. It was likely painted after Henry’s death in 1547, when she was Queen Dowager of England and Ireland, and is one of only two surviving paintings of Parr. The other work, also attributed to Master John, currently resides in London’s National Portrait Gallery.

Katherine was the last of Henry’s marriages and his only wife without a Royal background or court service. She was a prominent patron of the arts with a passion for gardens, music and coin collecting, and exercised significant power as Queen Regent in 1544 when Henry led a military expedition to France, signing royal proclamations and managing political instability. A year later, Katherine also became the first English woman to publish a work under her own name with the issue of Prayers or Meditations. While she outlived Henry, who infamously had two of his six wives executed, Katherine died in 1548 from complications of childbirth.

A rediscovered Rubens also fetched millions

Portrait of Katherine Parr, Queen of England and Ireland wasn’t the only work to break records at Sotheby’s Old Master sale. Among others, artist auction records were set for Italian painter Domenico Beccafumi, whose The Virgin and Child sold for $6.5 million; and English artist William Hogarth, whose Taste in High Life fetched $3.1 million.

Meanwhile, Pentecost, a late 15th-century Netherlandish oil painting attributed to an unidentified artist known as “Master of the Baroncelli Portraits” realized $10 million, nearly doubling the price it achieved at auction in 2010 and marking the fourth time it changed hands in more than four centuries. And Sir Peter Paul Rubens’ Saint Sebastian tended by two angels sold for $6.2 million, after having resurfaced at an auction in Missouri more than a decade ago, attributed at the time to French painter Laurent de la Hyre.

A painting of a wounded man tended to by angels
Sir Peter Paul Rubens’ ‘Saint Sebastian tended by two angels’ was only recently attributed to the painter. Courtesy of Sotheby's

Sotheby’s, which will also be conducting Old Master & 19th Century Paintings Day auctions today (June 6) and tomorrow (June 7), realized more than $49.5 million at its evening sale. This is the highest total for an Old Master sale in London since 2019 and a 19 percent increase from the results of the auction house’s 2022 Old Master evening sale in London, according to the auction house.

A Rare Portrait of Henry VIII’s Sixth Wife Breaks Auction Records