Looks Good on Paper, Spears WMS Magazine, Issue No. 15, Spring 2010.

May 6th, 2010 | By | Category: Articles

Drawing Conclusions………By Ivan Lindsay

The recent record price of £29.2m for a Raphael drawing confirms demand for important Old Master drawings.

On Tuesday 8th December at Christie’s London a Raphael drawing entitled Head of a Muse was sold for £29.2m, doubling its estimate of £12m–16m and setting a world record price for a work on paper at auction. The price exceeded a 1911 Henri Matisse still life painting from the Yves Saint Laurent collection that Christie’s sold last spring for US$46.5m and an Andy Warhol screen print that Sotheby’s sold in November for US$43.7m. The high price achieved by the Raphael was covered by the press from Delhi to Doha and from Moscow to Beijing, focusing attention on this area of the art market loved by specialist collectors and museum curators and yet little known to the general public.

The Raphael exceeded the previous record for his work held by a painting of Lorenzo de Medici, Duke of Urbino, an awkward portrait that was sold in July 2007 for £18.5m. Raphael’s black chalk preparatory drawing on paper of the Head of a Muse, only 12 × 8¼ ins, depicts a young woman looking dreamily to her left, hair tied up in a scarf, eyes half-focused on something in the distance. The outlines are drawn in sure confident strokes and light and shadow are differentiated with subtle shading and cross hatching. A soft light falls left to right, putting the right-hand side of her face into shadow. The drawing is particularly important because it was made as a preparatory work for one of the heads of the background crowd in the Parnassus, the third of four frescoes painted by Raphael in 1510 for the Vatican library, the Stanza della Segnatura. This was the artist’s first commission from Pope Julius II and remains the last study in private hands from this series, the others being in the Louvre in Paris.

The drawing shows small dots along the main outlines, indicating it was an auxiliary cartoon. This means that there was another drawing from which the head of the muse in the fresco was constructed. That drawing would have had holes punched along its outlines and dust scattered over the holes whilst placed above the present drawing and later also onto the fresco. Then the artist would have joined up the dots on the present drawing, creating an identical secondary drawing on which he could experiment. This explains the slight differences in the features of the girl in the fresco and the present drawing which some journalists such as Souren Melikian in the New York Times have worried about unduly.

The drawing has a distinguished provenance which adds to its value, having belonged to important dealers like Samuel Woodburn and Colnaghi, leading artists including Sir Thomas Lawrence and royalty such as King William IV of Holland. Most recently it had belonged to the late Colonel Norman Colville, who was badly wounded and left for dead on the battlefields of the First World War. Recovering against the odds, Colonel Colville later built a good art collection incorporating the finest oak and Queen Anne furniture and Old Master paintings and drawings. The collection was split between his townhouse in Kensington Square, which had formerly belonged to Talleyrand whilst ambassador to England, and his Jacobean manor at Penheale in Cornwall. With a family that could be traced back to 1066, he was a connoisseur, only buying objects that appealed to him for their beauty. His drawings collection included other works by Raphael and sheets by Leonardo da Vinci, Marco Zoppo, Dürer and Fra Angelico.

The existing record for a work on paper was for Danseuse au repos by Edgar Degas sold by Sotheby’s New York for US$37m in November 2008. Christie’s put an estimate of £12m–£16m on the Raphael, which many dealers thought was optimistic but, as James Faber of leading London drawings dealers Day and Faber observed, “It was a high estimate but with a drawing like this you can never tell what will happen because it is a trophy that appeals to art collectors of all types and not just collectors of Old Master drawings. It doesn’t really bear any relationship to the price of normal Old Master drawings more than say a unique house in Millionaires’ Row does to a Chelsea town house.”

The bidding on the Raphael involved a variety of bidders up to around £20m, at which point it was contested by two bidders who have consistently battled for most of the outstanding drawings that have come up over the last five years. The London drawings dealer Luca Baroni, the eventual under-bidder, was present in the room representing a private collector and Jennifer Wright from Christie’s New York was taking bids on the telephone from a client who was the successful buyer and widely reported by the press to be Leon Black.

Leon Black will be better known to the Spears readership as the Chairman of Apollo Management which he founded in 1990 and today manages in excess of US$20 billion. An alumni of Dartmouth College with an MBA from Harvard, Black was formerly head of Corporate Finance at Drexel Burnham Lambert . A keen art collector with his wife Debra and advised by the leading American museum curators, his collection ranges from Old Master drawings to Impressionist paintings and the post-war American artists.

The market for Old Master drawings is steady and attracts a passionate group of collectors, dealers and museum curators. It is only when a high price attracts attention that the mainstream notices the drawings market but, for its enthusiasts, the market has continued without interruption during this recession, along with Old Master paintings, whereas, according to Artprice’s Art Market Price Charts, Impressionist paintings have dropped in value by 40 percent and contemporary art by at least 70 percent. Contemporary artists such as Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst have disappeared completely from auction catalogues because the auction houses dare not put them on the block.

Drawings attract collectors because of their immediacy and their insight into the artist’s thinking. Drawings may be finished items intended for sale but are often studies as the artist tries to work on his ideas or what he sees before starting to put paint onto canvas. Drawings have an informality and spontaneity that is attractive. They are timeless and look good in traditional and modern interiors. Often on a small scale and with uniformity from mainly being on paper, they mix style and date better than paintings. For example, some collectors of contemporary art also collect Old Master drawings and mix them up whereas this doesn’t work with Old Master paintings. There are many collectors today still forming fine collections of drawings such as Jean Bonna in Geneva and George Pebereau in Paris.

Drawings also have a less expensive pricing structure than paintings. A great trophy like the previously described Raphael rarely appears on the market because such works by the leading Renaissance and Baroque artists have been sought after from the day they were created and now tend to be in the world’s great museum collections of drawings, including: the Albertina in Vienna, the Louvre in Paris, the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Uffizi in Florence, the British Museum in London, the Metropolitan and the Morgan Library in New York, the National Gallery in Washington and the Getty in Los Angeles. The leading trophy artists include Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, Rembrandt and Goya. In the 18th century Fragonard and Boucher are sought after, in the 19th century Cézanne and van Gogh were both excellent draughtsmen and in the 20th century there are Picasso, Matisse and many others.

Decorative drawings can be bought for prices starting at around £5,000, and for £250,000 a major work by an important artist can be found. Specialist dealers in London and New York hold larger stocks than paintings dealers mainly because of the more affordable pricing, and many are happy to share their knowledge and expertise with anyone who shows an interest. Christie’s and Sotheby’s now often combine their drawings and paintings sales which are held several times a year. For better drawings, there are many issues that a dealer can advise on, such as condition, which has a major influence on a drawing’s value.

People often complain in the paintings market that it is difficult to find good paintings and, when they do, they are very expensive, whereas drawings are still affordable and provide a fascinating, decorative and enjoyable field in which to collect. Three excellent places to establish a feel for drawings and the market are the annual London Master Drawings Week held in early July and the New York Drawings Week held in late January when the dealers club together and all open their doors with interesting exhibitions. There is also the Salon du Dessin, the annual drawings fair in Paris, which in 2010 will be held from Wednesday 24th to Monday 29th March.

Tags: Drawings art market, Ivan Lindsay, Old Master Drawings, Raphael Head of a muse

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