The Dürer who was in the attic
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An American bookseller bought a yellowed sheet for $ 30. The monogram AD surprised him. Now the drawing is offered in the art trade and could be worth hundreds of thousands.
Dhe Madonna should have made her appearance at Tefaf in Maastricht. However, due to the new type of corona virus that spread in Europe at the beginning of March, the London art dealer Agnews had failed to present Albrecht Dürer’s newly discovered drawing “Maria mit Kind” at the large art and antiques fair. The next appointment to land the coup does not take place either. Because the London Old Masters Week in July also falls victim to the pandemic. That is why Anthony Crichton-Stewart, the director of Agnews, will now offer the delicate rarity “discreetly and privately”.
But how did you get on the track of this long lost work? Last May Clifford Schorer, an American art dealer and owner of the Agnews Gallery, founded in Manchester in 1817 and established in London since 1860, was looking for a gift on Long Island. As he told the weekly newspaper “Sunday Times” in an interview, he heard about a “Dürer drawing”, which a friend of the book dealer had bought in 2017 during a house clearance in Massachusetts together with a suitable baroque frame.
The passionate bargain hunter has invested a whole 30 dollars in the intimate scene of the Madonna on the grass bench with the naked baby on her lap. The monogram AD suggested that he might have acquired a graphic by the German master. But a drawing? From Dürer’s own hand? The idea seemed too absurd.
Watermark was the deciding factor
For two years, this opportunity sale remained in the middle of the antiquarian smorgasbord, until Clifford Schorer, curious, took a look at the paper during a visit. Surprised by its quality, he had the work examined by the well-known British paper conservator Jane McAusland. After the first negative report that the sheet had been artificially aged, the positive news came: a watermark was found in the fine, northern Italian linen paper, which is known from over 200 Dürer drawings.
Other experts affirmed the authenticity, above all Christof Metzger, curator of the Albertina in Vienna, which has the largest collection of Dürer drawings. It has so far not been known whether his predecessor Fritz Koreny, another scientific luminary for the artist of the southern German Renaissance, also gives the green light.
Praised as one of the few independent portrayals of the popular Marian theme, the sheet is dated to the years 1503 to 1505. It may be concluded that Dürer made it in connection with his well-known Albertina watercolor from 1506, a heavenly scene in which the Madonna is surrounded by a multitude of animals and plants.
But how did this 16.2 by 16.4 centimeter work end in a house in Concord, Massachusetts? The provenance is still being researched at Agnews. So far, it has only been speculated that it was acquired in 1588 from the estate of the Nuremberg merchant Willibald Imhoff by the Habsburg Emperor Rudolf II, Dürer’s most important collector. In 1809, it may have come under French nobility during the Napoleonic Wars.
Trophy hunt for old masters
But it is only towards the end of the 19th century that the source situation becomes certain because the sheet is documented in Andre Carlhian’s inventory. Its interior design company “Maison Carlhian” primarily supplied new American millionaires with luxurious interiors. His son John Paul lived in America and let the paperwork “age” artificially in the vain hope that an interested party would be encouraged to buy. The drawing, so mistreated, disappeared into the sink, more precisely in the attic of that family of booksellers in Massachusetts.
If the Dürer attribution is accepted by interested collectors or museums, one can speculate what one of the rare, still privately owned sheets of the most famous Northern European Renaissance master is worth to them. Dürer’s last important sheet, the landscape watercolor “Doss Trento”, came onto the market at the legendary Hirsch auction at Sotheby’s in London in 1978 and since then has held the record for a drawing by Albrecht Dürer at 640,000 pounds (now around 3.5 million pounds) . A pen and ink drawing of “Christ on the Mount of Olives” fetched £ 300,000 in the same auction.
A new benchmark for drawings of the Northern European Renaissance was set up at Christie’s in New York in December 2018: Lucas van Leyden’s extremely rare study of a young man was surprisingly auctioned well above the estimated price of £ 11.48 million (with a premium). This put this rather unknown Dutch artist in second place after Raphael, who, with £ 26.5 million, has held the top position for the most expensive old master’s works on paper since 2012. “The head of a young apostle” passed from the illustrious possession of the Duke of Devonshire to the American Leon Black, who is known as a hunter of top-class trophies and bought, for example, Edvard Munch’s pastel “The Scream” for $ 150 million.