Speculation Grows Over a $4.7 Million Tax Bill Paid With Goyas

Speculation Grows Over a $4.7 Million Tax Bill Paid With Francisco Goya Paintings, by an Anonymous Individual.

Apr 12, 2024By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
Francisco Goya, Why? (Por qué?), plate 32 from “The Disasters of War” (1810) (published 1863). Photo: Heritage Art/Heritage Images via Getty Images.


Speculation grows over using money from valuable pieces, such as Francisco Goya and Francisco de Zurbarán works, for paying off a tax bill, owed to the local government of Álava in Spain’s Basque Country. These pieces are worth around $4.3 million, and the tax bill debt was $4.7 million.


Speculation Over Ownership

francisco goya sleep reason produces monsters etching 1797, Speculation
The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters by Francisco Goya, 1797. Source: Museo del Prado, Madrid.


Since the debtor’s name remained a secret, rumors regarding the collection’s beginnings circulated. Among the artworks paid in kind are some 200 etchings by Goya, including original copies from his Disasters of War, Disparates, Los proverbios, and Caprichosseries. Furthermore, the Álava Treasury acquired about 85 paintings. This  includes one of the Virgin Mary attributed to de Zurbarán.


There are also  several more paintings by another 20th-century artist Ignacio Diaz de Olano. In 2022, these projects accounted for around 20% of the income taxes collected in Álava. Public records indicate that the entire collection may be linked to the Celaya Foundation, which manages the estate of local businessman Juan Celaya, who passed away in 2016. This is despite the arrangement being apparently confidential.


francisco goya blind mans buff cartoon painting 1788, Speculation
Blind Man’s Buff by Francisco Goya, 1788. Source: Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Perfectly Legal?

It is unclear who obtained ownership of these works and then stopped paying taxes because the foundation does not owe any money. But, the in-kind payment may qualify as connected to obligations owed by Juan Celaya’s 1934-founded battery company, Cegasa. That business did, however, still owing taxes in 2023 totaling €1.3 million ($1.4 million). Furthermore, the most significant pieces were essentially already a part of the public heritage.


Get the latest articles delivered to your inbox

Sign up to our Free Weekly Newsletter

The Arteta triptych was loaned to the Guggenheim Bilbao in 2021, and the valuable Goya etchings were given to the municipal museum of fine arts in 2018. Before being rented out, the Goya etchings were valued at €191,000 ($207,000) by insurance in 2018. Today, their combined estimated value is €1.5 million ($1.6 million). The Arteta triptych’s worth, meanwhile, rose by €200,000 ($217,000) since 2018 to €1.2 million ($1.3 million).


inquisition tribunal goya
The Inquisition Tribunal, by Francisco Goya, c. 1812-1819, via Wikimedia Commons.


The generated numbers almost exactly match the amount of tax payable with the overall value of the collection. A treasury spokesperson has stated in the Spanish press that accepting cultural heritage in lieu of money to clear a tax bill is perfectly legal. It is also not subject to a wealth tax. Spain is not the only country that accepts this form of payment. In the U.K., art is often donated to the state as a means of covering inheritance tax.

Author Image

By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.