Da Vinci Drawing May Sell for $16 Million at Christie’s

Shreeya Maskey
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A drawing by Italian Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci may set a new auction record this July. Its presale estimate ranges from USD 11.2 million to $16.9 million. Titled Head of a Bear, the piece will lead the upcoming Exceptional Sale, hosted by Christie’s London on July 8th, 2021. It is one of only eight da Vinci drawings currently in private hands. The Devonshire Collections at Chatsworth and the Royal Collection maintain the rest.

Leonardo da Vinci, Head of a Bear. Image from Christie’s.
Leonardo da Vinci, Head of a Bear. Image from Christie’s.

On pink-beige paper, da Vinci demonstrated a technique taught by Andrea del Verrocchio. The artist used soft, scribbled lines to depict the structure of a bear’s head. Executed in silverpoint, the sketch belongs to a series of small-scale animal studies that da Vinci produced around 1480.

Sir Thomas Lawrence owned the sketch in the early 19th century. Lawrence was not only a noted British painter but also an avid collector of Old Master artworks. Following Lawrence’s death, the da Vinci drawing went to art dealer Samuel Woodburn, who later auctioned it with Christie’s in 1860 for only £2.50 (USD 3.50).

Leonardo da Vinci, Horse and Rider. Image from Christie’s.
Leonardo da Vinci, Horse and Rider. Image from Christie’s.

The offered piece may surpass the previous auction record for a da Vinci drawing. Horse and Rider currently holds that title. “After having sold Leonardo da Vinci’s drawing Horse and Rider in 2001 for over £8m ($11m), still the world record for a drawing by the artist today, Christie’s is proud to offer another work by arguably the greatest draughtsman the world has ever known,” Stijn Alsteens, international head of the Old Masters drawings department at Christie’s Paris, said in a statement. “I have every reason to believe we will achieve a new record in July for Head of a Bear.”

Besides Horse and Rider, a 1490 piece titled Salvator Mundi recently sold for a record-smashing $450.3 million at Christie’s. This historic sale not only drew attention to the artist but also invited controversy over the painting’s attribution.

Leonardo da Vinci, Salvator Mundi. Image from Christie’s.
Leonardo da Vinci, Salvator Mundi. Image from Christie’s.

While some art experts strongly suggest that da Vinci painted Salvator Mundi, others remain unconvinced. They argue that the painting, which required years of restoration, was most likely executed by the master’s assistants. “The composition doesn’t come from Leonardo,” said Jacques Franck, a Paris-based art historian and da Vinci specialist, to The New York Times. “He preferred twisted movement. It’s a good studio work with a little Leonardo at best, and it’s very damaged.” The authenticity of Leonardo’s painting still remains a mystery. 

Christie’s upcoming Exceptional Sale, held in London, will feature the small-scale Leonardo da Vinci drawing of a bear’s head. The live auction will start at 1:00 PM EDT on July 8th, 2021. Visit Christie’s for more information.

Want to learn more about rediscovered European art and Old Masters drawings? Read Auction Daily’s recent coverage.

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James Ardis
James Ardis
Senior Writer and Editor

James Ardis is a writer, editor, and content strategist focused on the auction industry. His company, James Ardis Writing, has partnered with auction houses, galleries, and many clients outside the art world.

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