Knocked down at €3.2m (£2.68m), the black and red chalk drawing of the head of a middle-aged man made the highest price for an Old Master drawing since a Raphael head study took £26.5m at Sotheby’s in 2012.
It was offered at Gestas Carrère in Pau, South-West France with the auction house assisted in the cataloguing by Paris Old Master drawing specialist Cabinet De Bayser.
Selling well above the €500,000-600 000 estimate, the auctioneers said the 9 x 7in (23 x 18cm) portrait will now enter an American collection.
The drawing was recently rediscovered in a private collection after its whereabouts had been unknown since July 1, 1833, when it was sold as part of the collection of Dutch banker and art collector Johann Goll van Franckenstein (1756-1821).
On the verso, the drawing retained van Franckenstein’s collection number (381) and also featured two other red chalk studies including a close-up of an eye and another one that is more difficult to read.
The bearded man depicted in the drawing also appears three major works completed by del Sarto in the 1520s: the Panciatichi Assumption c.1523 and the Passerini Assumption c.1526 (both now housed in the Pitti Palace, Florence) and the Borgherini Holy Family c.1529 in the Metropolitan Museum, New York.
In his two-volume biography of 1965, the British art historian John Shearman suggested the character assuming this distinctive posture and expression may well be a self-portrait of Andrea del Sarto himself.
Although disputed, the theory gains weight with a passage from Giorgio Vasari’s Lives regarding the Panciatichi altarpiece. It reads: “Among the apostles Andrea made his self-portrait, it seems so natural, living”.
The discovery in Pau represents a significant addition to the artist’s oeuvre. Less than 200 drawings by del Sarto survive with most in major museums (80 are in the Uffizi while the Louvre has 40).
Less than 10 autograph drawings are known to reside in private collections. The last on the market was the red and black chalk head of Saint Joseph, a preparatory drawing for the Bracci altarpiece with subsidiary studies c.1526-27, that sold for a premium-inclusive £6.5m at Christie’s London in 2005.
While the €3.2m sum represents the highest price for an Old Master drawing at a French auction, the record could well be surpassed in June next year when Paris saleroom Tajan offer a study of the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian which has been attributed to Leonardo da Vinci.