Symbolist drawings

Fernand Khnopff’s set of four Symbolist drawings in a frame by the artist which led Christie’s sale of drawings on March 22 at €380,000 (£336,285).

Image copyright: Christie’s Images Limited 2023

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The annual Paris drawings sale held by Christie’s (26/20/14.5% buyer’s premium) to coincide with the Salon du Dessin took place on March 22 and raised a premium inclusive total of just over €2.32m for a selection of 95 lots that ranged chronologically from the 15th to the early 20th century.

It was the Belgian Symbolist Fernand Khnopff (1858-1921) whose work provided the highest price of the auction when a set of four chalk drawings on paper enclosed in an elaborate frame designed by the artist himself in 1892 realised €380,000 (£336,285).

The four monogrammed drawings depicted a woman as a sphinx shown in profile and full face alongside a portrait of a woman’s head and a figure of a knight in armour and measured 7½ x 3½in (19 x 9cm), 8 x 5in (20 x 12.5cm), 3¾in x 4¼in (9.5 x 11cm) and 10¼ x 4in (26 x 10.5cm).

They were exhibited in the same year that the set was framed at an exhibition in Antwerp. The price is a new auction high for a work on paper by the artist.

Another highlight of the auction was Peter Paul Rubens’ (1577-1640) 15 x 11½in (40.5 x 29cm) black chalk drawing of a kneeling man shown in profile. It was pictured and previewed in ATG 2584.

Sold for €300,000 (£265,485), it was one of four lots in the sale from the family collection of Joannes de Clercq who acquired it at auction in 1867.

The others were all Dutch pen and ink studies: a 7½ x 11in (19.5 x 27.5 cm) drawing of Saint Thomas recognising Christ catalogued as Rembrandt School which realised €35,000 (£30,975); a 5½ x 5 in (14.5 x 12.5cm) drawing of the dismissal of Hagar and Ishmael attributed to Willem Drost (1633-59) which realised €9500 (£8410) and a 4¼ x 5½in (11 x 14cm) drawing of men playing cards at a tavern table by Govert Flinck (1615-60) which sold for €45,000 £39,825).

Still in the realm of Dutch and Flemish Old Masters, a red, black and white-heightened chalk drawing by Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678) proved more popular than predicted selling for €50,000 (£44,245) against a guide of €10,000-15,000.

Jacob Jordaens drawing

Chalk drawing possibly depicting a scene from The Parable of the Unjust Steward by Jacob Jordaens sold for €50,000 (£44,245) at Christie’s.

Image copyright: Christie’s Images Limited 2023

The 9½ x 10in (24 x 26cm) work has an inscription in the artist’s handwriting appearing to identify the scene depicted as an episode from the New Testament Parable of the Unjust Steward.

The third highest price was for a very attractive pastel by Jean-François Millet showing one of the artist’s characteristic rural landscapes populated by sheep and a cow to the foreground.

Millet landscape

Jean-François Millet’s pastel landscape with sheep which realised €230,000 (£203,540) at Christie’s

Image copyright: Christie’s Images Limited 2023

A late work measuring 15½ x 20½in (39.5 x 52 cm) from a private collection in Japan, it realised €230,000 (£203,540).

A sheet of black chalk studies of wrestlers by Honoré Daumier (1808-79) was another of the top priced lots in Christie’s auction overturning a €6000-8000 guide to take €85,000 (£75,220).

Like many of the events in drawings week Christie’s auction had its share of French institutional purchasing with three pre-emptions by French museums.

The Raven and Death

The Raven and Death, a work in pencil, brush and grey wash heightened with white by Gustave Doré, is a preparatory study for one of the 24 wood engravings illustrating an 1883 edition of The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe. At Christie’s, it was pre-empted by the Musée d’Orsay at €75,000 (£66,370).

Image copyright: Christie’s Images Limited 2023

These included a large 20½ x 14in (52 x 35.5cm) graphite, brush and wash drawing by Gustave Doré (1832-83), which is a preparatory study for a set of engravings to illustrate an edition of Edgar Allen Poe’s famous poem The Raven which was pre-empted by the Musée d’Orsay at €75,000 (£66,370).

£1 = 1.13