A rare “Tintin” painting by Belgian cartoonist Hergé was sold in Paris last week for €3.2m (US$3.8m), smashing his previous record and now stands as the most expensive comic book art in the world.
The Blue Lotus was originally created as the cover design for Hergé’s fifth volume of the comic character reporter Tintin’s first-ever adventure to China, in the midst of the Japanese invasion in the 1930s. The storyline follows Tintin's courageous mission to break up the international opium-trafficking ring in China.
Hergé (1907-1983) | The Blue Lotus, 1936
India ink, watercolor and gouache on paper
Dimensions: 34 x 34 cm
Provenance: Collection Jean-Paul Casterman, Belgium, and thence by descent
Estimate: €2,000,000 - 3,000,000
Price realized: €3,175,400 (US$3,831,000)
Auction house: Artcurial Paris
Sale date: January 14, 2021
Closer looks at The Blue Lotus, 1936
The present work received a pre-sale estimate of €2 to 3m and was sold for nearly €3.2m (US$3.8m) with premium last week, at a sale conducted by French auction house Artcurial, eclipsing the previous record of the €2.6m flyleaves, also by Hergé, auctioned off in 2014.
The world-renowned comic series “The Adventures of Tintin,” by Georges Remi, who later went by the pen name Hergé, debuted as a weekly comic strip in a Belgium newspaper in 1929 and had turned into a total of 24 comic albums. The series has been translated in more than 110 languages, with over 270 million copies sold.
Flyleaves for “The Adventures of Tintin”, circa 1937-1958
Sold for €2,654,400 (US$3,621,734) at Artcurial Paris, May 2014
The magazine cover with Chinese American actress Anna May Wong, that inspired the present work
The 1936 gouache painting was rejected by Louis Casterman, the artist’s publisher at the time, as it was deemed too costly to reproduce the work with the four-colour technique used in 1936. Hergé eventually gifted the work to the publisher’s son, who tucked it away in his drawer until it was found decades later.
The original cover for “The Blue Lotus” replaced with a simpler design
This particular volume of the series is seen as one of the most significant ones in the artist’s career. “The Blue Lotus” marks a breakthrough in terms of the Belgian cartoonist’s portrayal of a foreign soil, infusing aesthetics of the orient in the work. Hergé turned to Zhang Chongren, an art student from China, to learn about the country so his work could reach beyond the common stereotypes in the 1930s.
The exchanges with Zhang not only gave Hergé a better idea of what China was like, but fostered a much deeper cultural understanding and gave new dimensions to Tintin’s world. The two later became lifelong friends and Zhang also appeared in the stories as Tchang Tchong-Jen, Tintin’s new sidekick in both “The Blue Lotus” and “Tintin in Tibet” of the comic series.
From left: Hergé, his wife Germaine Kieckens, and Zhang Chongren
The 1936 illustration also acted as a catalyst for the artistic style ligne claire - French for “clear line,” that Hergé is known for. The backdrop that composes Tintin’s world is often rendered realistically while the main characters are depicted in simple lines with no hatching. The juxtaposition vividly leads audiences to the story settings.
“It allowed the artist to discover a remarkable fluidity and freedom evident in his treatment of light and dark, through the brushstrokes he used for form and space, expressing the evolution of Hergé’s thinking and Taoism,” said Eric Leroy, Comic Strip expert of Artcurial in a statement.