Art lovers take note: you can now see Albrecht Dürer’s drawing The Virgin and Child, one of the most exciting art-historical discoveries in recent memory, for yourself during Master Drawings New York (until January 29).
London’s Agnews, which is displaying the work in a show at Colnaghi Gallery, identified the piece as being by the hand of the great German artist after a gallery shareholder spotted it in a friend’s collection. An eagle-eyed Massachusetts man had purchased the artwork for just $30 at an estate sale in 2017, but until he went to Agnews, no one believed he had discovered an original Dürer.
“It’s unbelievably rare. It’s a sort of once-in-a-lifetime thing,” gallery director Anthony Crichton-Stuart told Artnet News. “Dürer drawings simply do not appear on the open market.”
To authenticate the work, Agnews enlisted Dürer experts Christof Metzger, head curator at the Albertina Museum in Vienna, and Giulia Bartrum, the long-time former curator of German prints and drawings at London’s British Museum. Both agreed it was the real deal.
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The quality of the drawing was undeniable, and the subject was one of the artist’s favorite, with Mary and the baby Jesus appearing in over 100 of his works. But even more convincing was the paper on which the drawing was made.
Held up to the light, it revealed a Trident and Ring watermark, found exclusively in Dürer’s drawings. This was the proof the gallery was looking for.
“It’s unique because it is unique—it’s a one of a kind,” Crichton-Stuart said. “The last Dürer drawing or painting of this quality came up in 1978 at Sotheby’s London.”
The Kunsthalle Bremen bought that work, a watercolor view of Trento, Italy, for a then-record £650,000 ($1.17 million). Over 40 years later, it’s difficult to place a value on The Virgin and Child.
“It’s so rare, and there are literally no comparables,” Crichton-Stuart said. “You can’t compare what a great Dürer is worth from 1978, because the art market has transformed beyond all measure between then and now.”
The auction record for an original drawing by a Northern Renaissance artist was set in 2018, with the £11.48 million ($14.6 million) sale of Lucas van Leyden’s cut-out study of a young man at Christie’s London.
The all-time high for an Old Master drawing at auction goes to a work by Raphael. Two of his works sold for about $48 million, one in 2009 and the other in 2012.
“We think that our Dürer is closer in value to the Raphaels,” Crichton-Stuart said. “We’ve been deliberately very coy about the price. We’re asking eight figures for it, which obviously covers a very broad range.”
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The work debuted at the London gallery in November, timed to the Old Master auctions at Christie’s and Sotheby’s, as well as the opening of “Dürer’s Journeys: Travels of a Renaissance Artist” at the National Gallery (through February 27). The timing was equally fortuitous stateside, as Master Drawings New York happens alongside the Old Masters sale at Sotheby’s.
“There have been many, many people coming in wanting to see it. People are really bowled over by the beauty of drawing and how good it is,” Crichton-Stuart said, noting that finding the right buyer will take time.
But interested parties probably won’t get a chance like this again.
“Nothing is impossible,” Crichton-Stuart said, “but it’s extremely slim.”
“Dürer and His Time” is on view with Agnews at Colnaghi, 38 East 70th Street, New York, January 21–29, 2022.
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