To coincide with the Salon du Dessin in Spring 2009, Sotheby's
Paris will stage its first-ever sale devoted exclusively to drawings, and is delighted to mark this debut by offering the prestigious Robert Lebel Collection of 170 drawings spanning the 16th19th centuries, with an overall estimate of 1.1-1.6 million.
Robert Lebel (1901-86) was a highly independent and atypical figure, difficult if not impossible to classify. He was at the same time essayist, novelist, art historian, erudite collector, Marcel Duchamp's first biographer, a friend of André Breton, and close to Max Ernst and Jacques Lacan. During his years in exile in New York during World War II, he assiduously frequented Breton, Matta, Ernst, Tanguy and the great ethnologist Claude Lévi-Strauss. Together they discovered Amerindian art, especially Eskimo art, then little-known. Back in France Robert Lebel worked as an expert in Old Master paintings for several prominent auctioneers, notably Maurice Rheims. His collection of Eskimo masks was sold at Drouot in 2006 under the gavel of Cyrille Cohen. Now his superb collection of Old Master drawings is to be offered at Sothebys.
The heart of the collection consists of Italian drawings, and includes several Renaissance masterpieces. The most eagerly awaited of these is likely to be a Study for the Madonna with the Long Neck by Francesco Mazzola, more commonly known as Parmigianino (1503-40). This is a preparatory drawing for the famous painting in Florence's Uffizi Gallery (estimate 500,000-700,000). Parmigianino, who was influenced by both Corregio and Raphaël, was a born draughtsman whose works have always been especially popular in France. This Madonna Study, now appearing on the market for the first time, is unquestionably one of the finest versions and is sure to catch the eye of leading collectors from around the world.
Other rare works include a Figure Study by Raphaël's assistant Perino del Vaga (est. 50,000/70,000); Pellegrino Tibaldi's Project for a Frieze for the Castel Sant'Angelo (est. 50,000/70,000); and a design for the decoration of the Sala Paolina in the Vatican by the great Florentine artist Giorgio Vasari (est. 80,000/120,000). All these artists are united by the importance they attached to the art of drawing in their artistic creation.
The Venetian School is represented by characteristic works by two great colourists, popular in France since the 18th century: Tintoretto, with a Study of Archers for his Rape of Helen in the Prado (est. 20,000-25,000); and Palma Il Giovane, with a preparatory study for his painting The Iron Age in Mantua's Palazzo Ducale (est. 10,000-12,000).
The collection's other strong-point is its array of classical French drawings by artists such as Claude Vignon, with Cleopatra (est. 40,000-60,000); Gabriel de Saint-Aubin; the great Nicolas Poussin, with a moving study of figures around a bed, from the Frédéric Reiset and Chennevières Collections (est. 80,000-120,000); and a Poetic Landscape by Claude Gellée, better known as Claude Lorrain (est. 8,000-12,000).
The Northern School, meanwhile, is represented by an elegant Mannerist drawing by Hendrick Goltzius: Venus Appeals to Cupid to Make Pluto Fall in Love (est. 60,000/80,000). The collection's 19th century drawings are fewer in number but of remarkable quality. Among some splendid works from the first half of the century are a Study of Female Heads from Jacques-Louis David's Brussels period (est. 10,000-15,000); a powerful Female Profile in watercolour by Eugène Delacroix (est. 20,000-30,000), along with his Studies of Figures after Goya: Priest & Monk Blessing the Crowd / Rose Study (est. 10,000/15,000). Fine drawings and watercolours by S. Redmond Granville, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux and Galien-Laloue add to the ensemble's appeal.
The sale of the Robert Lebel Collection concludes with an interesting work in red chalk, dated 1854, by the youthful Pierre Puvis de Chavannes: Esau's Return from the Hunt (est. 10,000/15,000). A selection of drawings from the Robert Lebel Collection will be on view at Sothebys New York: January 2429. Viewing dates at Sothebys Paris: March 2125.