LONDON — A tiny Leonardo da Vinci sketch sold Thursday at Christie’s for 8.9 million pounds with fees, or about $12.2 million, a record price for a Leonardo drawing at auction.
Leonardo’s delicate silverpoint study “Head of a Bear,” measuring just under 3 inches by 3 inches, and thought to date from the early 1480s, was included in Christie’s summer “Exceptional Sale” of high-value historical works of art assembled from a range of collecting categories.
Estimated to sell for 8 million pounds to 12 million pounds, or $11 million to $16.5 million, the drawing was bought by a single bid from an as-yet-unidentified buyer in the auction room. There was no competition from any telephone or internet bidders. The final price of $12.2 million was marginally better than the $11.5 million given in 2001 for Leonardo’s slightly larger silverpoint study “Horse and rider,” the previous auction high for a drawing by the artist.
“These prices are absurd,” said Jean-Luc Baroni, a dealer in museum-quality old master drawings, based in London and Paris. Baroni said that if he had been asked to price the work, he would have valued it at about $2 million. “You’re buying a name. It’s nothing to do with the love of drawings.”
“OK, it’s a Leonardo. But it’s so tiny,” he said. “It’s a postage stamp.”
The drawing might have been small — it is about the size of a standard square Post-it note — but the sale Thursday was viewed by many experts as possibly the last opportunity to buy an original Leonardo drawing from a private collection.
Prices for virtually any work associated with this most famous of Italian Renaissance artists have soared since the astounding $450.3 million given in 2017 for the “Salvator Mundi.” In June, Christie’s sold a 17th-century copy of the “Mona Lisa” for 2.9 million euros, or about $3.4 million. On Thursday, just hours before Christie’s sale of the drawing, Sotheby’s sold what may well be a 20th-century copy of the “Mona Lisa” for 378,000 pounds at a day auction of old masters. It had been estimated at 8,000-12,000 pounds.
“Leonardo is the magic name,” said Anthony Crichton-Stuart, director of the London dealership Agnews, who had been following Sotheby’s day sale.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.