Collectors Focus

This Article First Appeared In Apollo Magazine, September 2007. For further information see this link

What is driving the high prices paid for Italian, German and French drawings?

The high prices paid for drawings at auctions and dealers is fuelled by the demand for quality. But what should this quality be judged against? There are no hard and fast rules to use as a gauge, and it is often subjective but I believe there are five factors which can be used to measure against the quality of each object, whether it be a painting, drawing, sculpture, furniture or work of art. These are provenance, condition, artist, context and image quality. The first three are clear enough. The context of the object in the artist’s ‘oeuvre’ is an important factor in affecting the price, for example is this work a typical example by the artist or is it a mere scrap? Is this drawing a great example by the artist? These are subjective decisions a buyer has to make, but ones which can be made by understanding the work of the artist. The image quality is sometimes referred to as ‘wall power’. Does this object look good on the wall? Many of these objects are being bought by private collectors to be hung in a private setting, or indeed a museum is buying an object which will be seen by the public and will need to look impressive in a public setting, so it is important to consider how the object will look when it is ‘hung’. In looking at five drawings I will examine why these drawing have been prized so highly by the market. They are Hans Baldung Grien (1484/5-1545) Head of Man, Michelangelo Buonarrotti (1475-1564) Study of a Mourning Woman, Andrea del Sarto (1486-1530) Head of Saint Joseph looking down; Hans Hoffmann (circa 1550-1591/2) An Affenpinscher, and Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759-1840) Hydrangea, Hyacinths, Saint-Jacques Lilies and Daisies.

Head of a Man by Baldung sold for $3,712,000 (including premium) at Christie’s New York, January 2007. He is not an artist who is well known to the wider public, however 16th Century German drawings by important artists are very rare and keenly sought after. Baldung is closely identified with the circle of Durer, and indeed worked in the latter’s studio, where he acquired the knickname ‘Grien’-‘Green’-perhaps because of his liking for the colour. Drawings by early German draughtsmen are keenly sought after and a small Durer drawing, measuring 2.6 x 1.7 inches sold for $475,000 (including premium) at Sotheby’s New York, in January 1999 on an estimate of $50-70,000. I believe there were four of the five factors which influenced the price on Head of a Man. The first was provenance. This drawing came from the legendry collection of the German born banker Franz Koenigs, one of the finest created in the 20th Century. His first collection is in Moscow, having been seized by the Russians in 1945, and is largely unknown. The Baldung drawing came from the ‘second’ collection, formed by the Koenigs after the Nazi enforced ‘sale’ of the first collection. The second factor to influence the price is the strength of the image or wall power of the head. The oily black chalk drawing of this head in a contorted position, glaring out, is mesmerizing and has a great visual affect. Additionally the condition of the drawing is excellent, even when you take into consideration it was drawn almost 500 years ago.

Michelangelo’s Study of a Mourning Woman was a discovery made by Julien Stock from the collection of the Howard Family at Castle Howard, in North Yorkshire. It was sold for £5,943,000 (including premium) at Sotheby’s London on July 11 2001 and was bought by Jean-Luc Baroni, and sold shortly afterwards. This was a discovery and the market can be awkward to ‘new’ drawings, however the combined affect of all five factors affected the price. The condition and provenance of the drawing was excellent, having been sitting in an album since 1747 when it was acquired by Henry Howard from the sale of Jonathan Richardson, a well known and respected collector of drawings. Thirdly the name of Michelangelo was obviously going to play a part, especially since only 1% of his work survives, due to the fact that he burnt many of his drawings in bonfires. Fourthly the context of this drawing was significant, the drawing is dated to early in the artist’s career, and was a single full-length figure. The drawing is not a scrap, though one drawing, also by Michelangelo, which was not very impressive was Study of a Head and Torso, which was bought in at Christie’s New York in January 2006. This was because the market’s attitude was whilst this drawing is by Michelangelo it is not a significant example. And finally Study of a Mourning Woman had ‘wall power’, and all the brooding quality of the artist.

Andrea del Sarto’s double-sided drawing sold for £6,504,000 (including premium) at Christie’s London 5 July 2007 also had all five factors in its favour. Firstly the drawing’s provenance was excellent, having started its life in the legendary collection of Giorgio Vasari, one of the earliest collectors of drawings, and has his mount, which was still in evidence. It had also been in the French collections of Pierre Crozat and Pierre-Jean Mariette. These collectors are difficult to beat. Secondly the name of Andrea del Sarto, like Baldung, might not be as well known as Michelangelo, but is regarded as one of the great Renaissance draughtsmen. Thirdly as far as context the Head of Saint Joseph can be connected to the Head of Joseph in a Holy Family painting of 1523. Also the drawing had another bonus factor, a sort of ‘two for one’, namely a drawing on the verso of legs, possibly related to a figure in a fresco at Poggio a Caiano. Fourthly the image of the recto is very striking and impressive, and has great wall power, and finally the condition of the drawing was excellent. The drawing was sold by Jean-Luc Baroni.

The drawing of An Affenpinscher by Hoffmann speaks for itself. There are four factors which make this an important drawing in the ‘eye’ of the marker. Firstly the image is great and amusing, this needs no further explanation. Secondly the artist Hoffmann, like Baldung and Andrea del Sarto are not household names, but are highly regarded by the market. Hoffmann, like Baldung, comes from the orbit of Durer, and his work is closely associated with it. Thirdly the context of this work was significant, simply it is typical of Hoffmann’s oeuvre, and falls neatly in his known work of animals, indeed A Crouching Cat was sold at Christie’s London on July 6 2006 for £904,000 (including premium), and is very comparable in technique and subject to An Affenpinscher. And fourthly, condition, this drawing is in an excellent state of preservation. The fact that there was no known provenance of this drawing did not have an adverse affect on the drawing’s commercial appeal. The drawing was sold recently at the Salon du Dessin by Katrin Bellinger.

Finally the watercolour of Hydrangea, Hyacinths, Saint-Jacques Lilies and Daisies by Redouté had the five factors. Firstly and secondly the provenance and context were inter woven. This watercolour was drawn for Empress Josephine, wife of Napolean Bonaparte, to celebrate their coronation. This watercolour was so prized by the Empress that she hung it in her bedroom at Malmaison, where it remained for the rest of her life. Thirdly as far as the artist is concerned Redouté is regarded as the ‘Raphael of Flowers’ and this watercolour is indeed an exemplary example by him. Fourthly the condition of this is excellent, and finally the ‘wall-power’ of this watercolour is very strong. It was sold recently by Crispian Riley-Smith to a private collector.