The price of drawings

[22 Mar 2010]


The 4th edition of the Contemporary Drawing Fair of Paris, from 25 to 28 March 2010, is the ideal opportunity to take the pulse of the ninth art… how well has it survived the crisis? Which segments and artists are doing the best today?

Yes… the prices of drawings also rose and fell as the global art market bubbled and burst, but their fluctuations remained relatively moderate. At the art market’s speculative peak, drawing prices had gained only ‘only’ 27% while contemporary art prices had risen by 93% (between 2002 and 2008). Outside the target area of speculative buying, the drawing segment fell from a much lower height. In short, drawing has resisted the turbulence of the last 18 months better than any other artistic medium, posting a price contraction limited to -11% compared with -36% for the global art price index between 1 January 2008 and October 2009, and this more affordable segment – less speculative and therefore less risky than contemporary art – has not suffered from any marked disaffection. Indeed, the volume of drawing sales actually increased in 2009 and the minor dip in the market is already a distant memory with prices having already recovered most of their fall (+10% over the last 12 months).

Although the drawing market has not experienced any speculative pressures, that does not mean it is completely inert. Recently, for example, it has been strongly energised by the sales of Old Master drawings (one of which generated a world record on 8 December 2009: Raphaël’s Head of a muse fetched £26m at Christie’s), by the effervescence of the Chinese market and by a particularly dynamic niche at the moment, that of comics where prices are already beginning to vie with those at the top-end of the painting segment.

Comics, the new Eldorado…
The recent explosion of the Comics-as-art market has been quite spectacular. Extremely popular, recognised and exposed as an art form in its own right, this segment has been added to the target areas of wealthy collectors who have competed to acquire the best drawings at prices that would buy an original painting by Georges Braque or Fernand Léger!
This market is particularly dynamic in Belgium (Namur and Brussels) and in France (Millon & Associés since March 2009 and Artcurial since 2005). Artcurial organises two sales a year, the first in March, a couple of days before the opening of the Paris Drawing Fair, the second in November.
Two years ago, a gouache by HERGÉ fetched €620,000 generating a world record (29 March 2008). Collectors fought tooth and nail to acquire the work dated 1932 which ornamented the cover of the Tintin in America album. The result was considerably more than double the estimate (€280,000) which was already a record! Another record was set the same day for a work by Hugo PRATT. A water-colour from his Corto Maltese series far exceeded its estimate when it sold for €240,000. These new records in 2008 were substantially higher than the previous records. In March 2007, a drawing from Enki BILAL’s Bleu Sang fetched €145,000.
In 2009, the big names in the comics segment like Hergé and Hugo Pratt maintained excellent results: On 14 March a drawing from Hergé’s The Crab with the Golden Claws fetched €310,000. In May, in the Belgian town of Namur, two of his pencil-drawn pages from L’Affaire Tournesol and Les bijoux de la Castafiore sold for €220,000 and €250,000 respectively. In fact, the total auction revenue from Hergé pages in 2009 exceeded 1 million euros (although 70% of his original drawings sell for less than €10,000 in auctions). On 21 November 2009, another Hugo Pratt page from Corto Maltese in Siberia generated €200,000 (Artcurial).

These remarkable results have pushed comic originals into the same arena as mainstream artistic mediums and the number of wealthy collectors bidding for these works has substantially increased. For the time being, the market remains relatively ‘democratic’, with originals signed by Jacques TARDI, Moebius (Jean GIRAUD), Enki BILAL, André FRANQUIN and PEYO being affordable at auctions for several hundred euros.

The Parisian auction houses caught the opportunity of the presence of drawing amateurs in the capital to organize sales dedicated to the genre. On 13 March Artcurial will host a sale dedicated to comics; on the 17th, Blanchet & Associés will focus on animal drawings by Nicolas ROBERT and Baraban; on 24 March, Thierry de Maigret’s sale will diperse 19th century drawings including four by Jean Auguste Dominique INGRES; on the 25th it will be Old Master drawings at Piasa, and to close the month (28 March), roughly 200 drawings by TETSU (Tetsu) will be offered at the auctioneer V.A.E.P. Marie-Françoise Robert & Franck Baille.