It might be tiny, but the drawing of a bear’s head by Leonardo da Vinci sold for the whopping price of £8.8 million ($12.1m) on Thursday at a London auction by Christie’s.
The sale broke a new auction record for a Leonardo drawing, which was previously held by the Horse and Rider, which sold for £8.1m in 2001.
Head of a Bear measures 7x7cm and is more than 500 years old. The sketch was made using silverpoint, a technique Leonardo learnt from his master, Andrea del Verrocchio, on pale pink-beige paper. The painstaking method involves using a silver rod to chemically treated paper to leave marks.
It is one of a fewer than 10 drawings by the Italian Renaissance artist that are still privately owned, says Christie's, and has changed hands numerous times. At one point, it belonged to British painter and collector Sir Thomas Lawrence, before Christie’s sold it for £2.50 in 1860. Art collector Captain Norman Robert Colville also once owned it.
Since then, the drawing, which was initially expected to fetch up to £12m, has been displayed at several institutions across the world, including the National Gallery in London.
Stijn Alsteens, international head of Christie’s Old Master drawings department, said the work was “small but magnificent” and “will undoubtedly be one of the last drawings by Leonardo to ever come to the market”.
Leonardo may be best known for oil paintings, but drawings of the natural world by him were also numerous. His small-scale works of animals, in particular, date back to the 1400s.
In January, a small painting by Sandro Botticelli sold at Sotheby’s New York for $92.2m, setting an auction record for the Renaissance master and the highest price paid for an Old Master since Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi, which went for $450m in 2017.
Another notable lot at Thursday’s auction, called The Exceptional Sale, was a manuscript signed by Isaac Newton, which sold more from than £1.7m. A Charles I silver inkstand also sold for £1.9m.
Overall, the sale brought in £19.5m.
The names of the buyers for the Leonardo work were not revealed, but it was reportedly sold to a single bid from a man and a woman, reported the BBC.