Edgar Degas study of the Borghese Gladiator
The brush drawing by Edgar Degas of the Borghese Gladiator that led Christie’s March 22 sale of drawings from the artist’s studio where it sold for €330,000 (£286,955). Copyright: Christie’s Images Ltd, 2017

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

Offered for sale by his descendants on March 22, virtually all the works were from the earliest years of the Impressionist master's career.

They fell into several categories: drawings after famous Old Masters; studies of ancient sculpture; family portraits, working drawings for paintings and académies or drawings from a life model.

The 55-lot auction, which was attended by Degas’ great neice, raised a premium inclusive €1.56m (£1.36m).

Although only eight lots failed to sell, price levels varied greatly and it was clear from the bidding that clients were homing in on certain drawings.

Borghese Gladiator

Way out in front in price terms was one of the small group of drawings after classical subjects. The catalogue cover lot was a study of the Borghese Gladiator. Degas had drawn this famous marble sculpture in the Louvre from several angles but this viewpoint was unusual, seen from behind with dramatic foreshortening of one arm and painted with a brush dipped in walnut stain.

Christie's had estimated it at €25,000-30,000 and although bidding started some way below that level, it soon rose far beyond.

A US internet bidder and three telephones were involved but the final battle was down to the inevitable two, both bidders competing over the phone through Tudor Davies, Christie's Paris departmental head and International Director Anika Guntrum, who organised the sale.

They took the final price to €330,000 (£286,955) with the hammer falling to Tudor Davies' phone.

Nothing else in the sale reached this level (indeed several lots got away under estimate) but a bullish €100,000 (£86,956) was paid over the phone for one of Degas' preparatory drawings – two pencil views of an angel that were part of a group of late 1850s studies themed around the subject of John the Baptist and the Angel.

Bidding came from a mix of the room, the phones plus some strong internet participation, in particular from one client bidding online from Japan who secured a number of drawings across all categories and underbid several others.