A “Bear’s Head” by Leonardo da Vinci (1452 -1519) set the new world record for a drawing by the Renaissance genius: the in-depth study of the animal’s head, which measures just 7 x 7 cm, was awarded for 8,857,500 pounds (equal to 10,327,845 euros or 12,196,778 dollars) this evening at Christie’s auction in London.
It is one of Leonardo’s eight surviving drawings still in private hands outside the British Royal Collection in Windsor and the Devonshire Collections in Chatsworth. Starting from an estimate of £ 5 million as the main lot of the ‘Exceptional Sale’, the design was at the center of a competition between several collectors connected to the telephone and present in the room. The hammer stopped on the figure of 8,857,500 pounds, including taxes: a record price, but still far from the expectations that estimated the micro work up to 12 million pounds.
The “Bear’s head” – executed with a silver point on pale pink-beige paper, with a technique taught to Leonardo by his master Andrea del Verrocchio – broke the previous record of a hand drawing by the author of the “Gioconda” , entitled “Cavallo e cavaliere”, which was sold in 2001, again by Christie’s, for 8,143,750 serlines (11,481,865 dollars).
Leonardo’s drawing of the “Bear’s Head” has an illustrious collecting history: the earliest known property can be traced back to Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830), the famous British painter whose collection of Old Master drawings is considered to be among the most large never united to mono.
After Lawrence’s death in 1830, the design passed to his art dealer (and main creditor) Samuel Woodburn, who sold it at Christie’s in 1860 for just £ 2.50. In the first half of the 20th century the drawing was in the collection of another great British collector, Captain Norman Robert Colville, who also owned Raphael’s “Medusa Head” drawing sold by Christie’s in 2009 for 29,161,250 pounds (48,009,960 dollars).
From its first exhibition in 1937, the drawing “Text of a bear” was then exhibited in museums around the world, including the large exhibition dedicated to Leonardo da Vinci by the National Gallery in London in 2011-12 and was subsequently presented at the Louvre in Abu Dhabi, the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow and the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.
This paper links to three similar small-scale studies of animals, a study of two cats and a dog kept in the British Museum in London; a double-sided sheet with studies on the paws of a dog from the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh; a study of a walking bear in the Lehman collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The studies are all datable to the first half of the eighties of the fifteenth century.
The bear’s face is very close to the ermine present portrait of Cecilia Gallerani or “Lady with an ermine” by Leonardo now in the Krakow Museum.
(by Paolo Martini)