Published: July 17, 2001
On the London Scene: Da Vinci ‘Horse and Rider’ Drawing Fetches $11 Million
LONDON – “Horse and Rider” by Leonardo da Vinci sold at Christie’s for £8,143,750 July 10, a world auction record for a drawing by the artist and equaling the price established at Christie’s last year for the most expensive Old Master drawing ever sold.
The superb silverpoint study of a horse and rider, measuring 120 by 78 millimeters, was the most significant drawing by the Renaissance master to be sold at auction since the 1930s and is also one of the first expressions of his interest in horses.
“Horse and Rider” is a preparatory study for Leonardo’s first great composition, the large unfinished panel, “The Adoration of the Magi,” now in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Among the earlier drawings to have survived from the artist’s first maturity, it also explores wider themes that were to become the hallmark of the master’s genius.
“The Adoration of the Magi” was commissioned in March 1481 as an altarpiece for the monks of San Donato a’ Scopeto outside Florence, and abandoned when the artist left the city later that year. Work on this commission marked the emergence of Leonardo as an independent artist after his apprenticeship in Verrocchio’s studio.
This sheet had been part of the collection of the Brown family for more than seventy years. Bought by John Nicholas Brown at auction in 1928, the drawing has been in the United States ever since. It is now being sold for estate planning purposes on behalf of his son, J. Carter Brown, the former director of the National Gallery of Washington, himself a distinguished connoisseur.
Depicting energetic engagement between horse and rider, this sheet is beautifully observed. The legs of the animal are lightly sketched and the virtuoso foreshortening of the horse, combined with the emphasis on the powerful torso, expresses Leonardo’s preoccupation with perspective in the composition of “The Adoration of the Magi.”
As a dedicated observer of nature, Leonardo sought to prove that the accurate representation of figures in motion was as efficient a means of establishing perspective as the science of geometry. The bodies of the horse and rider are drawn around a vertical axis, faintly visible, running from the left of the horse’s head down to the lower edge where the front legs seem to converge.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm