A rare drawing of a male nude by the 17th-century Italian sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini is coming up for auction in France next week, with an estimate of €30,000 to €50,000. The work, one of the artist’s celebrated “academy drawings (academies)”, goes under the hammer at Actéon auctioneers, based in the French northern city of Compiègne, on 20 March.
“This drawing comes from a private collection in Compiègne which includes other important works. We cannot give out more information for privacy reasons,” says Dominique Le Coent de Beaulieu, director of Actéon. A condition report posted by the auction house states there is a “tear in the middle” while the upper corners have been restored.
The work was initially attributed however to the French Baroque painter Pierre Puget. “This [Bernini] authentication is reinforced by the total similarity with the seven other Bernini ‘academies’ kept at the Uffizi Museum in Florence and at the Teylers Museum in Haarlem, The Netherlands,” Le Coent de Beaulieu adds.
Crucially, the work has been authenticated by Ann Sutherland Harris, professor emerita in history of art at the University of Pittsburgh. The Paris-based Old Masters dealer Louis de Bayser has also confirmed the new attribution.
Sutherland Harris tells The Art Newspaper: “De Bayser sent me a very good jpeg and I studied it as enlarged as possible with a few of his other large red chalk academy drawings in the Uffizi of which I have life-size images. Their scale alone sets them apart from most 17th-century ‘academies’, as these studies of the male body are usually called. Bernini likes to avoid continuous contour lines by using the juxtaposition with darker areas near the figure to define the forms. His strokes are applied with both force and delicacy. You can sense him focusing and thinking about the placement of every stroke.”
The highest price achieved at auction for a Bernini drawing was $233,000 at Sotheby’s New York in 2014. The portrait dating from the early 1640s, in red and black chalk, depicted Ottaviano Castelli, a distinguished librettist and musician attached to the Roman court of Cardinal Antonio Barberini.
UPDATE (22 March): The drawing sold for €1.9m with fees; the buyer is American.