Head of a Bear, Leonardo da Vinci, 1480.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Head of a Bear will be offered for sale at Christie’s Auction House in London as a highlight lot in the Exceptional Sale, taking place live on July 8, according to Christie’s. The work, signed by da Vinci in the bottom left corner, is a 1480s drawing of the head of a bear executed in silverpoint on a pink-beige prepared paper – a technique which da Vinci learned from his master Andrea del Verrocchio. Head of a Bear is one of only eight surviving drawings of Leonardo da Vinci known to be in private hands outside the Royal Collection and the Devonshire Collections at Chatsworth.

The small drawing is a precious example of da Vinci’s scientific interest, sensitivity to the natural world, extraordinary gifts of observation, and unmatched mastery of depicting details.

 “I am delighted that this masterpiece, one of the most important works from the Renaissance still in private hands, has once again been entrusted to Christie’s after its first sale in 1860,” Ben Hall, Chairman, Old Master Paintings, from Christie’s New York, said in a statement. “The work has been owned by some of the most distinguished collectors in the field of Old Masters across many centuries, not least the present owner who has owned it since 2008.”

The drawing will be on public exhibition at Christie’s in Rockefeller Centre in New York and will then move on to be shown at Christie’s Hong Kong later this May. It will then go to London where it will be on view in early June before the auction where it is expected to sell for between £8 million to £12 million (between $11.2 million to $16.9 million.) Stijn Alsteens, the International Head of the Old Masters Drawings department at Christie’s Paris, said in a statement that he expects the sale of Head of a Bear to top Horse and Rider‘s in 2011 which sold for over $11 million. If the da Vinci drawing tops this sale, it will hold a new record for a drawing by the artist. 

Throughout the centuries, the drawing has had many notable owners. It was once owned by Sir Thomas Lawrence, the renowned British painter whose collection of old master drawings is considered among the greatest ever assembled. After Sir Lawrence died in 1830, the drawing passed to his dealer Samuel Woodburn, who sold it at Christie’s in 1860 for only £2.50. Since its first public exhibition in 1937, Head of a Bear has been shown at museums across the world including the London National Gallery, The Louvre Abu Dhabi, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, and The State Hermitage Museum.

Other pieces from The Exceptional Sale will include an orrery clock designed by Jacques-Thomas Castel, an amethyst vase mounted in ormolu by Jean-Claude Chambellan Duplessis, and a silver and gold damascene ‘Alhambra’ vase by Plácido Zuloaga.

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