€15m Leonardo drawing discovery (ctd.)

May 10 2022

Image of €15m Leonardo drawing discovery (ctd.)

Picture: Tajan

The imminent sale of the newly discovered Michelangelo drawing in Paris has reminded me of the Leonardo drawing of St Sebastian that surfaced in 2016, also in Paris. It belonged to a retired doctor, known only as 'Jean B', who was given the drawing when he was a young man, but forgot about it till he was in his 80s. There were suggestions it would be sold by Tajan, the French auction house who first proposed the attribution. In 2017 it was valued at €15m and declared a 'national treasure' by the French state, which meant museums had three years to attempt to buy it. Since then, rien.

But I see from the French press (RTL) in Decmber last year that the drawing has now become a court case. The French government attempted to buy it for €10m, which offer was rejected by Jean B as too low. He then applied for an export licence to sell it overseas, but the French state refused, apparently on the grounds it might have been stolen. Which seems extraordinary, since the state had just tried to buy it. Jean B is suing the French culture minister to get his export licence. And in the meantime, Tajan are suing him, saying he owes them €2m for all the work they did.

As they say in legal circles, all good things end in litigation.

There is one intriguing little snippet; when Jean B first took his drawing to Tajan, it was given an estimate of just €20,000-€30,000. It was only after specialist Patrick de Bayser saw it that the Leonardo penny dropped. What a sleeper that might have been...

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