Top results from the Paris Drawing Week

[23 Mar 2018]

The Friday “Top”. This week our fortnightly Top-10 auction ranking focuses on the 10 best results ever hammered in the French capital for drawings. The ranking provides historical reference points for the sales to be held in Paris during the last week of March… sales that will round off an intense month of drawing market activity surrounding the Salon du Dessin and Drawing Now.

Rank Artist Hammer Price ($) Artwork Sale
1 Henri MATISSE (1869-1954) 2 847 481 Le danseur 23/02/2009 Christie’s & Pierre Bergé Paris
2 Paul CÉZANNE (1839-1906) 2 838 357 Intérieur de forêt 20/12/2017 Touati-Duffaud Paris
3 Georges Pierre SEURAT (1859-1891) 6 316 827 Au divan japonais 03/12/2008 Sotheby’s Paris
4 GU Quan (Attrib.) (XVIII) 6 234 535 Cinq Cent Luohan 09/06/2015 Christie’s Paris
5 Pablo PICASSO (1881-1973) 4 596 765 Le repos du sculpteur 03/06/2010 Sotheby’s Paris
6 Edgar DEGAS (1834-1917) 4 230 000 Dans les coulisses 27/11/1997 Ferri-Beaussant-Lefèvre Paris
7 HERGÉ (1907-1983) 3 620 622 Pages de garde bleu foncé 24/05/2014 Artcurial Paris
8 Joan MIRO (1893-1983) 3 313 770 Femmes et oiseau devant le soleil 01/06/2011 Sotheby’s Paris
9 Joan MIRO (1893-1983) 2 847 481 Les Amoureux 17/06/1989 Loudmer Paris
10 Pablo PICASSO (1881-1973) 2 838 357 Femme assise 11/04/2013 Christie’s Paris
copyright © 2018

At the global level, the drawing market is far from negligible, generating more than a billion dollars in annual auction turnover, representing 10% of the global Fine Art market. Admittedly, this performance owes much to the spectacular results generated by Chinese drawing. Remember that the Chinese artistic tradition is rooted in the mastery of ink, a technique that incorporates aesthetic and philosophical elements that are typical to China’s immense culture. The rapid expansion of the Chinese art market, centered around 2010, was the principal driver of a simultaneous expansion of the global drawing market. So it is not surprising that the 4th best result for a drawing sold in France rewards a Chinese scroll attributed to Quan Gu, an artist active in the 18th century (over $6.2 million at Christie’s on 9 June 2015). In recent years, Chinese buyers have been fine-combing the French auction market in an effort to buy back their cultural heritage.

In France the drawing segment of the art market is particularly dense: both for good-quality, “old”, but often anonymous drawings, and for works by well-established signatures whose works on paper are cheaper than their canvases. Of course, nowadays, in a context of soaring prices for paintings and sculptures by the ‘great’ French artists, a lot of major collectors have refocused their attention on their drawings, which are, a priori, more affordable. This has led to considerable inflation on the best works in the drawing segment, mirroring the inflation on the painting segment. It is therefore no surprise to see that 8 of the 10 best results for drawings have been hammered in the last 10 years, reflecting the segment’s relatively recent dynamism. In France, the best results have rewarded the major Avant-garde artists of the late 19th and early 20th century, with works by Edgar Degas, Georges Seurat, Paul Cezanne, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro generating results between $2.8 and 8.7 million.

Naturally, drawings by these major artists are just as sought-after abroad as they are in France, with American and British collectors particularly interested in these signatures. In the case of Matisse (number 1 in this ranking with a drawing that fetched $8.7 million, considerably augmented by the superb quality of the Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint-Laurent from which it was offered), the French market generates 10% of the artist’s auction turnover from 16% of the lots sold, whereas the US accounts for 55% from 46% of lots sold. Of course, private collectors are not the only potential buyers for such emblematic signatures; museums also track purchase opportunities and may, in the case of France, substitute the highest bidder by exercising their pre-emption rights (first refusal).

Apart from the richness and density of the French market, another attraction is its regular addition of exceptional sales to the global art market calendar, often related to the rediscovery of a forgotten masterpiece, a superb private collection or a special sale by an artist’s heirs. Last year (23 March 2017) Christie’s Parisian outlet organised the sale during Drawing Week of 55 early Edgar Degas drawings (dated 1855 to 1865) belonging to the artist’s family. The studio drawings offer a superb illustration of Degas’s learning process and of the styles and artists who influenced him in his early twenties. There are classical studies, nudes, family portraits and other drawings “in the style of” Mantegna, Rembrandt, Perugino, Michelangelo, Poussin and Géricault… and never previously seen on the market. In short… Degas’ work from a new angle… his underlying inspirations and aspirations. It also allowed enthusiasts to bid for certain drawings at exceptionally low prices for such a prestigious signature: Étude d’après Nicolas Poussin, « Médée tuant ses enfants » went for less than $7,000 and Étude d’après Fra Angelico, Saint Stéphane, détail du « Couronnement de la Vierge » fetched $6,000. As in the case of Matisse, Degas’ absolute auction record (for a drawing) was hammered in the United States when Danseuse au repos (a drawing enhanced with gouache) sold for $37 million in 2008 (Sotheby’s New York). That’s a much bigger number than the French record for a Degas drawing of $4.2 million (Dans les coulisses) hammered in 1997. In sum, the French market has some very strong competitors in this segment as well.