September 23, 2023

LONDON – A tiny Leonardo da Vinci sketch sold at Christie’s on Thursday for £ 8.9 million in exchange for fees, or about $ 12.2 million, a record price for a Leonardo drawing at auction.

Leonardo’s delicate silver pen study “Head of a Bear” measuring just under 3 x 3 inches, believed to date from the early 1480s, was part of Christie’s summer “Extraordinary Sale” of high quality historical works of art put together from a number of categories to collect.

The drawing was valued at 8 to 12 million pounds, or 11 to 16.5 million dollars, and was bought in a single bid from an as yet unidentified buyer in the auction room. There was no competition from telephone or internet bidders. The final price of $ 12.2 million was slightly better than the $ 11.5 million awarded in 2001 for Leonardo’s somewhat larger Silverpoint study “Horse and Rider,” the previous auction high for a drawing by the artist.

“These prices are absurd,” says Jean-Luc Baroni, a museum-quality dealer in old master drawings based in London and Paris. Baroni said if asked to calculate the price of the work, he would have estimated it at about $ 2 million. “You’re buying a name. It has nothing to do with the love of drawing. “

“Okay, it’s a Leonardo. But it’s so tiny, ”he said. “It’s a postage stamp.”

The drawing may have been small – about the size of a standard square post-it note – but the Thursday sale was viewed by many as possibly the last opportunity to purchase an original Leonardo drawing from a private collection.

Prices for virtually every work associated with this most famous Italian Renaissance artist have skyrocketed since the astonishing $ 450.3 million donated to the Salvator Mundi in 2017. In June, Christie’s sold a copy of the 17th century Mona Lisa for 2.9 million euros, or about 3.4 million US dollars. On Thursday, just hours before Christie’s drawing was sold, Sotheby’s sold a possibly 20th-century copy of the Mona Lisa for £ 378,000 at a daily old masters auction. It has been estimated at 8,000 to 12,000 pounds.

“Leonardo is the magic name,” said Anthony Crichton-Stuart, director of the Agnews London dealership, who had followed Sotheby’s Day sales.

Leonardo was known for creating “composite” animals in his art by combining elements of different species. Scientists have linked the drawing of a bear sold Thursday to the famously animated head of an ermine in Leonardo’s famous “Portrait of Cecilia Gallerani” from 1490 in the National Museum in Krakow.

“It was a very beautiful, very poetic drawing,” says Stephen Ongpin, specialist dealer for old master drawings from London. “What I liked was the tenderness of the portrayal. It’s not like a scientific drawing. But it was small. ”Ongpin said he thought Christie’s valuation was“ correct, ”as the estimate reflected a record price for a Leonardo font 20 years ago.

Ongpin and other dealers identified Christie’s anonymous salesman as American billionaire Thomas S. Kaplan, best known for his touring collection of Rembrandt paintings. Kaplan acquired the drawing in 2008 from London dealer Johnny van Haeften, as indicated in Christie’s cataloging. Kaplan declined to confirm that he was the “family trust” doing the sale.

Ongpin said Christie’s looked for the “Salvator Mundi Effect” by offering the drawing in its evening “Extraordinary Sale,” which appeals to wealthy trophy item collectors, rather than at a specialized old master auction.

“There are one or two private collectors and a museum or two who could have bought such a drawing,” Ongpin said. “But Christie’s was also looking for a buyer who doesn’t collect drawings and would love the name.”

The sale raises questions about the future of another drawing by the Renaissance master owned by a retired doctor in France.

The former doctor, an eighty-year-old known only as Jean B. in legal documents, hopes to add the work to the small list of Leonardo drawings from private collections that are offered on the open market.

As early as 2016, the Paris auction house Tajan identified a double-sided pen drawing that the doctor owned as a significant Leonardo discovery. Widely accepted by scholars as Leonardo, the 7½ “by 5” sheet depicting the martyrdom of St Sebastian on one side and scientific sketches on the other was declared a “national treasure” by the French state, which was approved during offer to buy it at a fair market price for a period of 30 months during which export was prohibited.

But the sensational sale of “Salvator Mundi” in 2017 made the owner of the drawing revise his expectations, according to Rodica Seward, owner of Tajan.

Seward said the owner had decided to cancel the auction scheduled for June 2019, at which Tajan was hoping to fetch a price of at least 30 million euros, or about $ 34 million, for the double-sided drawing. In July of this year, the French state offered to buy the sheet for 10 million euros, or about $ 11.8 million, just before the certificate of denial of export expired. The offer was rejected and the export ban will remain in place even after it has been extended.

The drawing is now the subject of a protracted legal battle in which the owner and his family want to lift the export restrictions in order to be able to sell the Leonardo on the international market. On Wednesday, a Paris court adjourned the case until October 27.

“If little Christie’s drawing is worth $ 12.2 million, what is the ‘St. Sebastian’s worth? ”Said Seward in an interview. “Who can buy it in France if you can’t export it? Who knows? “She added,” The drawing is pending and in our safe. “