A 16th-Century Drawing by Lucas van Leyden Fetches £11.4m

A 16th-century drawing by Dutch painter Lucas van Leyden (1494-1533) was hammered down at £10m and sold for £11.48m with premium included. What’s so special about this drawing depicting a young man standing?

A Young Man Standing sold for £11.48m

Lucas van Leyden (1494-1533) was a child prodigy, and one of the most important and innovative 16th-century artists. Lucas van Leyden may be called the first North Netherlandish artist to achieve wide international fame. His works were praised by Vasari, copied by students in Raphael’s Italian workshop, and laid the way for Rembrandt and Rubens.

More than on his rare paintings, Leyden’s reputation was based on his prolific work as a printmaker, and this extensive graphic œuvre. Works by Lucas were already rare and considered to be precious in the 17th century. Fewer than 20 paintings and only 28 of his drawings survive. Apart from this present one, other drawings are all housed in museums. The one offered at the sale was therefore the only example to come to the market.

Self-portrait by Lucas van Leyden

The Last Judgement by Lucas van Leyden. Museum De Lakenhal

It is often said that drawing is the thought of the artist. The painting on the wall is the finished article, but to arrive at this final state, the artist usually has to draw. First sketches can be very different from the final studies as the artist’s thought changes. Sketches and preparatory works, very often unsigned, are considered as unfinished work to many. It is rare to find well-preserved drawings passed down till today.

The last time a drawing by Lucas appeared on the market was more than 10 years ago and the drawing was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was sold at Christie’s in London as an anonymous 'unframed old master drawing', with six sketches by the British artist William Frederick Witherington (1785-1865). The drawing Archangel Gabriel announcing the birth of Christ, inscribed ‘L. V. Leyden’, was later attributed to Lucas van Leyden. The drawing was sold for an undisclosed sum, which was reported to be the highest price ever paid for any drawing by the New York institution at the time.

The Archangel Gabriel announcing the birth of ChristThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

The present drawing of A Young Man Standing, measuring 27.9 x 13.2 cm, was in the collection of Rugby School in Warwickshire. It was given to the school in around 1880, along with roughly 100 other works, by alumnus and antiquarian Matthew Holbeche Bloxam.

The swaggering youth depicted in black chalk is very probably a nobleman given that he is wearing a sword. Dressed in a jaunty hat, he is adorned in thick, heavy swathes of fabric, the deepest shadows of which Lucas has rendered with sharp lines of black chalk, probably wetted to appear even darker. The drawing sold for £11.48m, outstripping its presale estimate of £1.5m. It also set a world record price at auction for the artist.

Lucas van Leyden (1489-1533). A Young Man Standing

Lot no.: 60
Size: 27.9 x 13.2cm
Provenance: M.H. Bloxam, by whom given to Rugby School
Estimate: £1,500,000
Hammer price: £10,000,000
Price realised: £11,483,750

Auction house: Christie’s London
Sale: Old Masters/New Scholars: Works of Art Sold to Benefit Rugby School
Auction date: 4 December 2018