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|Drawings in July
by Paul Jeromack
"So, who'd she buy it for?"
Naturally, the discussions herein quoted (immediately after Christie's London July 4 sale of Old Master drawings) refer to Michelangelo's pen and red-chalk drawing of The Risen Christ, which the tall, lithe blonde (and very rich) dealer Katrin Bellinger had just bought for £8,143,750 ($12,305,206), a record auction price for an Old Master drawing. The underbidder was a very dejected Luca Baroni of Colnaghi's (who the rumor mill reported was bidding for the National Galleries either of Washington or Scotland).
The Michelangelo had been the jewel in the collection of the late Sir Brinsley Ford, CBE, FSA, who purchased it at the fabled Henry Oppenheimer sale at Christie's in 1936 for the impressive price of 3,400 guineas (£3,570). (As it happens, the most expensive drawing in the Oppenheimer sale went for about three times the price of the Michelangelo -- Portrait of an Ecclesiastic, one of only two drawings by the 15th-century French master Jean Fouquet, which was bought by Duveen against Frits Lugt for the staggering sum of 10,200 gns. If the Fouquet were to come up today -- it was bought by the Metropolitan for an undisclosed price in 1949 -- it's unlikely it would make even half as much as the Michelangelo!)
To date, Bellinger has not applied for an export license (she has a rather nice flat in London, and this drawing is surely no hardship to live with for a while), but should she do so, it is interesting to speculate what might happen. The Ford heirs had offered the drawing for approximately £6 million to every conceivable British public institution before consigning it to Christie's (all the better to get favorable tax concessions). Only the National Galleries of Scotland was interested, with its energetic director, Tim Clifford, making the heirs a counter-offer, which they rejected.
Clifford could always try to buy the Michelangelo if and when it is exported, but as he is rumored to be interested in pursuing the soon-to-be-available directorship of the Victoria & Albert Museum, observers are wondering if Bellinger is just sitting tight, waiting to see what Clifford will be busy with over the next few months before she decides to make her move. If she makes one, that is.
The rest of the Christies sale was far less fraught with intrigue, being a mixed up-and-down affair, with some drawings selling for much less than anticipated and, as usual, with the most spectacular and beautiful sheets commanding most of the attention.
The great paucity of Mannerist drawings is reflected by the sum of £75,250 ($113,702) paid by the London trade for a handsome pen and brown wash sheet by Giuseppe Porta Salviati of The Queen of Sheba Presenting Gifts to King Solomon (est. £10,000-£15,000) and a supremely kinky pen and wash sheet of The Whore of Babylon Seated on the Back of the Seven-Headed Beast attributed to the "School of Berne, ca. 1560" (but crankily dismissed by several disgruntled dealers afterwards as a brilliant 19th-century fake). It sold for £30,000 ($45,330) to a phone bidder over a presale estimate of £4,000-£6,000.
Strong prices were registered for 18th-century sheets, with the notable exception of Giambattista Tiepolo, whose drawings on offer were mostly dullsville. A spectacular watercolor of a bouquet of flowers by Pierre-Joseph Redoute (est. £60,000-£80,000) had sold for 750,000 FF at Sotheby's Monaco in June 1985 and now made £223,750 ($338,086), paid by London dealer Peter Mitchell.
A beautiful red chalk Boucher of Mercury Reclining on a Cloud (a study for a large picture in the Wallace collection) had sold at the David Daniels sale at Sotheby's in 1978 for £3,500 -- it now was bought by a very determined private collector for £80,750 ($123,023).
Drawings by Francesco Zuccarelli are usually cheap -- a pair of his lovely chalk religious subjects on faded blue paper sold for just £5,000 ($7,555), but a more commercial and lavish Extensive River Landscape with Shepherds in brown ink, chalk, wash and white heightening (est. £7,000-£10,000) was bought by Bellinger for £17,000 ($25,687).
But few drawings were as eagerly desired than Antoine Berjon's smashing Portrait of A Gentleman (est. £10,000-£15,000), a pen-wash-and-white on blue paper sheet that was the sale's cover lot, selling to New York dealer Mark Brady for £40,000, underbid by a private New York collector.
Sotheby's sale the following day, July 5, had less spectacular offerings -- the house had hoped to get its own Michelangelo: a striking, previously unknown pen sheet of The Mourning Virgin from Castle Howard. ("We'll show you, Noel!" one can almost imagine the Sotheby's specialists saying). Although a few people (including this writer) received postcards announcing its inclusion in the sale, the consignment didn't pan out -- though that drawing will be sold either very late this year in December or in New York in January 2001 -- the house just hasn't announced it yet.
But if Sotheby's didn't get Michangelo, it got the next best thing -- a new discovery of a tiny wisp of a sheet by Leonardo da Vinci from an undisclosed French collection. Featuring black chalk and pen studies of Hercules with a Club and Whirlpools, it offered interesting evidence that Leonardo toyed with idea of carving a pendant of Hercules to Michelangelo's David. Overestimated at £400,000-£600,000 (there was very little there to get really worked up over, except that it was, well, by Leonardo for chrissakes), it was bought in at £370,000, though an American buyer was found immediately afterwards.
While everyone has heard of Leonardo, only a handful of specialists know about Jacopo Vignali, a 17th-century Florentine master. Sotheby's featured a haunting red-and black chalk portrait of a tousled-haired young girl wearing a string of coral beads and a full-lipped pout. Although many thought the £60,000-£80,000 estimate exorbitant -- "Paintings by Vignali don't bring that!" being the universal cry) -- the sad little lass broke many hearts of bidders who yearned to give her a home. A very determined private collector won the day (underbid by the Getty) with a record bid of £170,000 ($257,295).
PAUL JEROMACK writes on art from New York.