A rare polychrome Tintin illustration has sold for a whopping €3.2 million (£2.8 million) with fees, breaking records for the most expensive work of comic book art sold at auction. Hidden in a drawer for decades, the original artwork by Belgian cartoonist Hergé (1907–1983) was in fact a rejected cover for one of the most popular European cartoons – ‘The Adventures of Tintin’.
“Owing to its uniqueness, this masterpiece of comic art deserves its world record and confirms that the comic-strip market is in excellent health,” remarked Eric Leroy, the comic expert for Artcurial in Paris which sold the work on 14 January 2021.
Painted in 1936, ‘Le Lotus Bleu’ depicts the courageous young reporter and his dog Snowy hiding in a porcelain jar. Hergé used gouache, Indian ink and watercolour to achieve the eye-catching artwork for the comic book, which saw Tintin in China dismantling an opium trafficking ring during the 1931 Japanese invasion.
Publishers Casterman ultimately decided not to reproduce this cover as it involved a costly four-colour printing technique. Hergé, who struggled with finances to produce his colourful comics, instead made a simplified version with a black dragon and plain red background.
According to the auction house, Hergé eventually gave the original version to his publisher’s young son, Jean-Paul Casterman. In 1981 the charming cover was rediscovered after the boy had folded it in six and left it in a drawer many years earlier. Some experts have disputed this story because the cover does not include a dedication like the other artworks Hergé gave away as gifts.
Three phone bidders eagerly battled for the illustration during the Parisian sale, pushing the price above its low estimate of €2.2 million (£1.9 million). In recent years collectors have become increasingly enthusiastic about comic book art, especially ‘The Adventures of Tintin’. The previous comic book art record was set by another illustration by Hergé in 2014, which sold to an American collector for €2.65 million (£2.4 million) with fees.
However, the recent sale also attracted some critics who oppose the privatisation of heritage artwork. Nick Rodwell, the husband of the illstrator’s widow Fanny Vlamynck, said “Hergé’s work belongs to his family but it is also part of Belgian heritage. It should not be sold, I’m not saying it was stolen by Casterman. It was just not returned by Casterman.”
Created in the 1920s, the Tintin series of 24 books has since been translated into dozens of languages and sold more than 200 million copies worldwide.