Dürer drawing purchased for $30 could be worth $50 million

A totally unknown drawing by the German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) has resurfaced and could be worth around $50 million. The drawing, The Virgin and Child with a Flower on a Grassy Bench (c. 1503) was purchased by the current owner for a mere $30 at an estate sale in Concord, Massachusetts in 2016, who considered the drawing to be “a wonderfully rendered piece of old art”. It then came to the attention of Agnews Gallery, who are selling the drawing on behalf of the owner, who wishes to remain anonymous.

The drawing, described by Agnews as, “one of the most refined and highly finished drawings of the subject by Dürer”, bears the famous ‘AD’ monogram, yet previous owners believed it to be a twentieth-century reproduction of another Dürer print or drawing. It was purchased by the present owner in the sale of the estate of Jean-Paul Carlhian, an architect who died in 2012. It transpires that the drawing had been purchased by Maison Carlhian, his family’s furniture and decorative art gallery, in 1919, likely as an original. Jean-Paul was an intellectual and cultured individual who studied at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris, owned an extensive library and, as an architect, was responsible for various museum buildings, including two for the Smithsonian Institution. As such, it is remarkable that he did not realise he was in possession of a drawing by the most important artist of the German Renaissance.

Clifford Schorer, an Agnews shareholder and the person who made the discovery has suggested that the drawing “could fetch a record price.” He was first put in contact with the buyer in 2019 whilst in Boston, and he told The Art Newspaper that, “it was an incredible moment when I saw the Dürer […] it was either the greatest forgery I had ever seen – or a masterpiece”. Luckily for the buyer and Schorer, research carried out by paper conservator Jane McAusland indicated that the drawing was an original: it was made on paper watermarked with a trident, which is paper used by Dürer in over 200 of his drawings. She also confirmed that the AD monogram had been added in the same ink as the drawing.

Dürer experts Christof Metzger, curator at Vienna’s Albertina Museum, and Giulia Bartrum, former curator at the British Museum, have also examined the drawing and agree on the attribution. They suggest that it is possibly a preliminary study for a watercolour by the artist of The Virgin with a Multitude of Animals (c.1506), now at the Albertina Museum.  The drawing will be on display at Agnews in London from 20 November to 12 December, before going to New York to be exhibited at Colnaghi.

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