A drawing by Hergé for the cover of Tintin’s album The Blue Lotus on Thursday 14 January beat the world auction record for comics, with 3.175 million euros including fees, announced the Artcurial house.
Sold by the Casterman family in Paris, this 1936 drawing, in gouache and watercolor, ultimately judged too fine and complex for the printing of the comic strip, had reappeared mysteriously, long after having been offered by the Belgian designer to the son of editor Louis Casterman, Jean-Paul, according to the heirs.
Tintin dressed in Chinese style emerging from a jar, taunted by a disturbing red dragon: the brilliant drawing created by Hergé in 1936 for the cover of the Blue lotus, a “exceptional piece” to the mysterious story, was estimated at more than two million euros.
This small exquisite drawing in India ink, gouache and watercolor therefore exceeds the 2014 record reached for the design of the cover pages of Tintin’s albums, sold for 2.51 million euros (costs included) by the same. French auction house. It was then the most expensive original comic book drawing ever to be auctioned.
In the ambient “tintomania” that has reigned since the 1990s, the boards designed by Hergé reach new heights. In 2016, a board ofWe walked on the moon had left for 1.55 million euros.
The Blue Lotus is one of the masterpieces of the Belgian designer. The album marks a turning point in his creation. It’s the one “of his narrative and political maturity, for which he documents himself as a true journalist”, according to Artcurial. The plates appeared in 1934-35 in the review Small-Twentieth, before the album was released in 1936.
Georges Rémi alias Hergé is passionate about China after meeting a young graduate of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels, Tchang Tchong-Jen, with whom he forms a lifelong friendship. After the fantasies and incredible adventures of the first boy scout-style albums, Georges Rémi adopts a more serious, humanist and realistic register, in this breathless plot where drug trafficking and armed intervention from Japan tragically mingle.
In this drawing, the anguish can be read on the features of Tintin and Snowy, who protrude their heads from a bluish earthenware jar, facing a terrifying blood-red dragon, against a background of a black wall dotted with mysterious signs. The reproduction of this drawing was too expensive, it was not chosen to become the cover of the album. A simplified version is adopted, with a black dragon on a red background and much less detail.
A mystery surrounds this work: was it really offered by Hergé to the son of its publisher Louis Casterman, Jean-Paul, then aged seven, as the heirs of the publisher claim? The child would have folded it in six and kept it in a drawer, from which the sheet of paper would have been pulled out decades later.
Experts question the veracity of this story, as does Hergé’s beneficiary: the Briton Nick Rodwell, husband of Fanny, second wife of Hergé and universal legatee, ensures careful protection of the work of ‘Hergé, whose albums have sold a total of 250 million copies.
For Philippe Goddin, one of the best connoisseurs of the work, “By putting the drawing up for sale, the Castermans are not to blame. They believed in the legend passed down to them by their father”. But he estimates “eminently suspect” the story of Jean-Paul Casterman (died in 2009) when he claimed to have received this drawing as a gift. The fold marks are certainly visible on the sheet of paper, but it is because Hergé had slipped the drawing in an envelope to send it to the deputy director of the edition, Charles Lesne. According to this hypothesis, the design would have remained since 1936, along with many others, on deposit with Casterman, and would not have been offered at all.