written by Crispian Riley-Smith
It happens very rarely that the drawings by major Old Masters, such as Michelangelo come up for auction sales. And yet, the Art Market is full of surprises! Read a first hand report from this historical sale last month!
The field of Old Master Drawings has seen some multi-million $ sales in the last few decades. In this article I will explain some of the significant prices drawings that have sold at auction, and the nuances between the significant price discrepancies between works by the same artist.
On 18 May 2022, history was made in the field of Old Master Drawings when Michelangelo’s First Nude Drawing, a re-discovery, sold for a hammer of €20,000,000, with premium, €23,162,000.
"The drawing is large, and the figures are full length, and actually, on a viewing in the Paris salesroom at Christie’s, it was a very moving experience and one that is experienced in front of great works of art."
This is an incredible price for a drawing, though the initial press releases suggested an estimated sale price in the region of €30,000,000. Why was the realised price lower? However, this is still a significant price given the fact that the drawing was new to the market, and was unknown to scholars until its public reveal a few months ago. Though the drawing has passed the crucial acceptance of the key scholar on Michelangelo, Dr Paul Joannides, the emeritus professor of art history at Cambridge University and author of the complete catalogue of drawings by Michelangelo and his school in the Ashmolean, Oxford, and the Musée du Louvre, it had been first recognised by Furio Rinaldi, in February 2019, then a specialist at Christie’s department of Old Master Drawings, and now curator of drawings and prints at the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco.
"In recent years another significant discovery was also made in France, and it was a drawing by another of the great Renaissance masters, Leonardo Da Vinci."
It may seem extraordinary that a drawing by one of the most famous Renaissance artists has come to the market after having laid unrecognised for over 500 years. How is this possible? It is indeed a unique discovery and it is one that I have personally experienced a number of times in my career as a specialist in the market for the last 30 years. In recent years another significant discovery was also made in France, and it was a drawing by another of the great Renaissance masters, Leonardo Da Vinci (see the image below). When this drawing appeared on the market in 2017, the guide price was €15,000,000, and, like the Michelangelo drawing, was placed under an export ban of 30 months. This drawing is now subject to a well publicised court case in France. This drawing came onto the market shortly after the sale of the Leonardo da Vinci painting, the Salvator Mundi, which sold for a world record price of $450 million at Christie’s New York in November 2017.
Related: How to Value Drawings
In December of 2012, a drawing by Raphael of the Head of an Apostle sold for £29.7 million at Sotheby’s London (see the image beow). This drawing was sold from the collection of the Duke of Devonshire, and had been in the same collection since 1720.
How Are These Works Priced?
It is my view that works of this quality need to have a “star” element in their market value. This is made up of 4 factors. Firstly, what is the provenance? Secondly, is the work by an artist with a household name? Thirdly, has the object been accepted by the specialists who the market listens too? Fourthly, is the work visually impressive?
With this in mind, a drawing by Michelangelo of “Study of a Left Thigh and Knee, with a separate study of right Knee”, sold for £296,800, including premium, at Sotheby’s, London, on 9 July 2003. In my view this had 3 of the 4 factors required for star quality values. Firstly this drawing had a great provenance, it had come from the collection of Sir Joshua Reynolds. Reynolds was, of course, first known as a great portrait painter, but he also owned a very important and significant collection of Old Master Drawings. Secondly, this drawing is by a household name, Michelangelo. Thirdly, it is accepted by the key specialists, but lacks the last key factor. The artwork was not visually impressive, it was a study of a knee. Actually two knees.
"It is my view that works of this quality need to have a “star” element in their market value. Firstly, what is the provenance? Secondly, is the work by an artist with a household name? Thirdly, has the object been accepted by the specialists who the market listens too? Fourthly, is the work visually impressive?"
The Raphael drawing, which sold in 2012 for £29.7 million, had an amazing provenance of the Duke of Devonshire. Even though, there have been 2 significant sales from this collection in 1984 and 1987, this time at Christie’s, the Duke of Devonshire still owns around 1,800 Old Master Drawings by the most important artists from the 16th,17th, and 18th Centuries. This collection is regarded as the best provenance for Old Master Drawings, and one of the most important collections in the world belonging to a private individual. The drawing by Raphael that sold at Sotheby’s is accepted by key scholars, it is by a household name, and lastly it is an amazing image for one of Raphael’s most important masterpieces.
Coming back to the Michelangelo that sold at Christie’s in Paris, there were various nuances in these 4 factors which did not mean the drawing sold for its estimate of €30 million. Firstly, the Michelangelo drawing came from the well- known 18th Century Turin collection of Commendatore Modesto Genovosio. This collection is well known to specialists in the field of drawings, and this drawing bears his collector’s mark at the bottom, and was sometimes erroneously called Gelozzi or Gelosi. Secondly, the drawing was by an artist with a household name, not only because of his name as an artist, but also made well known among the non-art buying public as a “ninja turtle”. Thirdly, the drawing was accepted by the key scholars. But the fourth factor, wall power and object significance was where, in my view, prevented the drawing selling for estimated auction value. Now to dig a bit deeper into this, I will explain the drawing in more detail. So this drawing by Michelangelo is essentially a copy after Masaccio, with 2 figures attached, which are not copies (see the images below). The drawing is large, and the figures are full length, and actually, on a viewing in the Paris salesroom at Christie’s, it was a very moving experience and one that is experienced in front of great works of art. But the market did not go crazy for this drawing.
It is a key that works of this significance have the full backing of the accepted market experts. In the case of the Michelangelo drawing, it was Paul Joannides, and in the case of the Leonardo da Vinci work it was Dr Carmen C. Bambach, Curator of Italian and Spanish drawings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, one of the leading scholars on Leonardo. This is especially true for drawings that are fresh to the market and are re-discoveries.
In cases like the Raphael drawing, the most expensive Old Master drawing ever sold, this masterpiece was also a preparatory work for Raphael’s important painting in St.Peter’s The Transfiguration.
Crispian Riley-Smith works at Crispian Riley-Smith Fine Arts Ltd, which focuses on Art Valuations, and Consultancy in Buying and Selling (www.riley-smith.com/crispian)