Newly discovered Albrecht Dürer drawing on public view for the first time at Agnews
Written by Silke Lohmann | 07 December 2021
An absolute highlight not to miss during this winter's London Art Week, is the Albrecht Dürer drawing at Agnews, which was first unveiled to the media in November. On view for the first time since its discovery in the U.S.A. and the meticulous research that followed, it is part of a special exhibition entitled Dürer and His Time that will end next weekend.
The recently made, important rediscovery of an unpublished pen and black ink drawing by Albrecht Dürer (1471 - 1528), The Virgin and Child, is now included in an exhibition which looks at how this Renaissance artist was one of the pioneers of crafting a self-fashioned identity, or brand. The exhibition also includes the only copper engraving plate by Dürer known to exist, on loan from Stiftung Schloss Friedenstein Gotha, Germany - the first time it has been seen in the UK.
The Virgin and Child was bought in 2017 by a local Massachusetts "picker" when he went to an estate sale at the home of the late Jean-Paul Carlhian, descendant of a famous French antique dealers family specialising in furniture. It was a chance meeting at an antiquarian book shop that led to Cliff Schorer, Boston-based businessman, collector and shareholder of Agnews, being shown the drawing.
He felt that it could indeed be a genuine Dürer, and asked the owner's permission to arrange to have it examined further. To confirm the age of the paper, Cliff brought it to the world-renowned paper restorer, Jane McAusland. She confirmed the age and, importantly, the presence of the Trident and Ring (the Fugger emblem) watermark, which is recorded in more than two hundred sheets used by Dürer throughout his life. This paper has been referred to in the Art History Literature as "Dürer-paper". Cliff then took the drawing to Dr. Christof Metzger, Chief Curator at the Albertina, Vienna, and acknowledged expert on Albrecht Dürer, in October 2019, who confirmed the attribution to Dürer. He will include it in his forthcoming catalogue raisonné to be published by Taschen in 2022/23.
Dürer's legacy has been preserved and studied since his death in 1528, so unknown works are extremely rare. This exquisite drawing has been the subject of significant interest since its rediscovery. Believed to have been executed around 1503, Agnews' drawing is a highly finished study which Dürer may have used as preparation for one of his finest watercolours, The Virgin with a Multitude of Animals (1506) in the Albertina, Vienna.
Works by Dürer only appear with extreme rarity on the open market. Indeed, Dürer's last important sheet, a landscape watercolour of Trento, was sold at the legendary Hirsch auction at Sotheby's in London in 1978 for £640,000 (approximately $1,300,000). No other works by the artist of this importance have come to the market since and it remains to this day the highest price for Dürer at auction. A new benchmark for a drawing from the Northern European Renaissance was set at Christie's New York in December 2018 when Lucas van Leyden's cut-out study of a young man sold for £11,480,000. This now places a northern Renaissance work in second place as the most expensive Old Masters work of art on paper sold at auction, after Raphael's Head of a Muse, which sold at Christie's London in 2009 for £29,000,000 ($48,000,000). Agnews is asking an eight-figure sum for their Dürer drawing.
The drawing has been joined by other pieces of Dürer's own art, and that of his contemporaries, to contextualise the layers of the artist's brand and his status during his lifetime. It includes two other works for sale to put Dürer's influence into perspective. Christoph Amberger's Portrait of Barbara Schwarz, wife of an Augsburg accountant and a high-ranking servant to the important Fugger family of merchants and bankers, is as such elaborating on the patronage of the Fuggers and their artistic connections. Dürer's networks and travels will be represented by a Crucifixion by Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen from 1507, which shows perfectly how Dürer inspired other artists of his time. During Dürer's famous travels to the Netherlands, his diary entry from June 8, 1521 suggests that he may indeed have met with Oostsanen, and painted his portrait as a gift.
Agnews has provided another highlight by securing the loan of the only known Dürer copper engraving plate still in existence, his portrait of Philipp Melanchthon, from the ducal collection at Gotha and an impression of this engraving, made from the same copper plate is also on show.
Schloss Friedenstein in Gotha is a hidden gem among German museums. Gotha was one of the residences of the Dukes of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, closely linked with the British Royal Family through the marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The museum is a fine example of the Dukes' passion for collecting and the museum shows a huge variety of works, but the highlights are the Dutch and German paintings which include works by Peter Paul Rubens, Jan van Goyen, Lucas Cranach the Elder, and Caspar David Friedrich. The world-famous "Gothaer Liebespaar" (Gotha lovers), a mysterious and artistically outstanding painting predating Dürer, is also part of the collection. A special exhibition on the lost Masters will be on view until August 2022.
The Agnews' exhibition has been organised with the help of Giulia Bartrum, a leading authority on Dürer and long-time former curator of German Prints and Drawings at The British Museum, who retired after 40 years in 2019. A catalogue of original research from leading academics will be printed in 2022 with contributions from Angela Hass, Peter Van den Brink, and Angela Campbell, exploring themes such as representations of the Virgin and Child, discussion of the Fugger trident trade-mark and their copper mines, as well as Dürer's influence outside of Germany.
You may also be interested to listen to The Art Newspaper interview with Cliff Schorer and Giulia Bartrum, available here.