PARIS—With its plethora of fairs, auctions and exhibitions, this year’s Semaine du Dessin (Drawings Week, March 23–30) again attracted many of the world’s leading specialists in works on paper. Attendance at this year’s 36-gallery Salon du Dessin, held at the Palais de la Bourse March 25–30, climbed sharply, to 11,000 from 7,000 in 2008 (when it lasted five days instead of six)—perhaps the result of contemporary material being included for the first time at an event traditionally devoted to Old Master and 19th-century drawings. Contemporary works were also on display at three other fairs: the third edition of the Salon du Dessin Contemporain, the second edition of Slick Dessin, and the Foire Internationale du Dessin du XXIe Siècle, which made its debut this year.
Older drawings, however, continued to dominate in the saleroom, although the number of lots on offer was down 40 percent this year, to around 800—largely because Christie’s and Tajan, who between them offered 500 lots in 2008, did not stage sales of drawings this March.
Sotheby’s filled the void left by Christie’s and Tajan, with its first-ever drawings sale in Paris on March 25, devoted to the collection of Robert Lebel (1901–86), a close friend of André Breton and biographer of Marcel Duchamp. The sale brought in a total of €1.99million ($2.7million) for 98 lots, of which 75, or 77 percent, were sold. By value, the sell-through rate was a much higher 93 percent.
Seven of the top ten lots went to private buyers, led by a fresh-to-the-market red chalk study by Parmigianino (Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola) for his Madonna of the Long Neck, which is in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence. The drawing sold to a European collector for €780,750 ($1.05million) on an estimate of €500,000/700,000. Giorgio Vasari’s Christ Giving the Keys to St. Peter, an ink-and-brown-wash study for the Pauline Chapel in the Vatican, sold to a U.S. collector for €420,750 ($570,000) against an estimate of €80,000/120,000. The leading trade buy, at €144,750 ($196,000), was a previously unpublished late-16th-century ink-and-brown-wash drawing by Hendrick Goltzius, Venus Ordering Cupid to Fire His Arrow at Pluto’s Heart (estimate: €60,000/80,000).
The main surprise at the Lebel sale was the €36,750 ($50,000) paid by a European collector for a 17th-century study of a young man’s head in black chalk with white chalk on blue paper, attributed to the “circle of Michael Sweerts” (estimate: €3,000/4,000). The major unsold lot was a tiny ink sketch by Nicolas Poussin, Groupe de personnages autour d’un lit, which was derailed by an ambitious estimate of €60,000/80,000.
Artcurial’s sale on March 27 was much smaller than in 2008—95 lots were on offer, compared with 218 last year—and focused on the fresh-to-the-market collection of Baron Joseph Raphaël Vitta (1860–1942), an arts patron who donated Eugène Delacroix’s Death of Sardanapalus, 1827, to the Louvre Museum in 1921. Works by Delacroix duly led the sale, with an 1829 sheet with four pencil studies of a lioness’s head selling for €136,850 ($186,000) on a €50,000/70,000 estimate. The artist’s Fantôme féminin effrayant un homme dans une loge de théâtre, 1831, believed to depict poet Alfred de Musset being frightened by a female ghost at the theater, sold for €62,498 ($85,000) on a €30,000/40,000 estimate. The Vitta collection’s 26 lots yielded a total of €355,563 ($483,000), but ten lots failed to sell—notably an oil-and-pencil sketch by Théodore Géricault for his painting Imperial Cavalry Officer, which is in the Louvre (estimate: €300,000/400,000), and Delacroix’s pastel Jeune femme à sa toilette, ou La toilette de Psyché, 1862 (estimate: €60,000/80,000).
Works by Delacroix also dominated the sale’s 69 other lots, which yielded a further €354,731 ($482,000). His watercolor Sous-Bois, 1840s, thought to depict the park of George Sand’s home in the Loire Valley, brought in €99,674 ($135,000) on a €75,000/100,000 estimate, but his Deux soldats marocains endormis went unsold (estimate: €120,000/150,000). An album of 257 watercolor views of the environs of Plymouth by the English artist (and onetime friend of J.M.W. Turner) Ambrose Bowden Johns (1776–1858) aroused less enthusiasm. This album had been offered at Piasa in April of last year, but failed to sell against an estimate of €40,000/50,000. Here, with a lower estimate of €20,000/30,000, it sold for €22,844 ($31,000).
Unlike Artcurial, Piasa had a larger sale this year—294 lots compared with 243 last year—and achieved a better sold-by-lot rate of 64 percent, up from last year’s 53 percent. The highlight of the Piasa auction was a pair of undated oval watercolors of Mary Magdalene and John the Baptist by Giovanna Garzoni (1600–70), which sold for a quadruple-estimate €63,199 ($85,800).
A drawing by Giorgio de Chirico, the subject of a major retrospective currently on view at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris through May 24, was among the top lots at Rieunier & Associés’s sale of Old Master drawings and paintings, modern paintings, and books of hours on April 1. The 1914 pencil study for de Chirico’s Composizione Metafisica sold for €33,000 (estimate: €4,000/6,000). A red chalk Study for the Christ, signed “A. Sacchi” but catalogued as “Italian School of the 18th century,” soared to €9,200 against an estimate of €150/200.
Compared with those of 2008, total auction sales over the week dipped 18 percent, to just under €4million ($5.3million)—although the average sold-by-lot rate remained stable at 60 percent. The average price of lots sold, however, was up 23 percent to €7,800.