The London gallery, which announced the discovery in 2020, believes the pen and black ink work of the Virgin and Child was executed c.1503 and is a highly finished study for Dürer’s watercolour The Virgin with a Multitude of Animals (1506) now hanging in the Albertina Museum in Vienna.
It was unveiled last week as the centrepiece of the gallery’s forthcoming LAW exhibition on the celebrated northern Renaissance artist and is priced in the eight-figure range.
The drawing was spotted in 2017 by a local Massachusetts picker in an estate sale at the home of the late architect Jean-Paul Carlhian and reportedly bought as a reproduction for $30.
After several unsuccessful attempts to sell it, the owner showed it to Boston businessman and collector Cliff Shorer. He brought it to the attention of paper restorer Jane McAusland who confirmed the age and the presence of the trident and ring watermark, which is recorded in more than two hundred sheets used by Dürer throughout his life.
Its earliest provenance is difficult to establish but may originally have been acquired in 1568 by the Nuremberg merchant Willibald Imhoff, who collected Dürer’s work and inherited the library of the artist’s close friend Willibald Pirckheimer.
Later in the 19th century, it may have been in the French collection of Count Hubert de Pourtalès (1863-1949) who in 1919 is known to have sold four Dürer drawings to Maison Carlhian, the Paris-based interior design firm operated by the Carlhian family.
The drawing features the artist’s famous AD monogram and was authenticated last year by Dürer expert Dr Christof Metzger, a curator at the Albertina Museum.
Hardly any significant drawings by Dürer remain in private hands with almost all his known works in museum collections.
Just a handful have been on the open market since 1978 when the artist’s last great work, a watercolour landscape of Trento, sold at Sotheby’s in London from the collection of Swiss collector Robert von Hirsch for £640,000 (around $1.3m) – an auction record that still stands.
Dürer is widely regarded as the most important, innovative, and influential artist of the northern European Renaissance. A skilled marketing man, he mastered the practice of self-branding and employed two agents to sell his prints. His AD monogram is considered the first artistic trademark.
The gallery’s exhibition explores Dürer’s “self-fashioned identity” and as well as the drawing includes the only copper engraving plate by the artist known to exist, on loan from Stiftung Schloss Friedenstein Gotha in Germany.
Dürer and His Time runs at the St James’s gallery until December 12 with the winter edition of LAW taking place from December 3-10 (see Dealers’ Diary for the event preview).