A red and black chalk portrait of a Renaissance French prince attributed to François Clouet soared to €810,000 (£736,365) at the Hôtel des Ventes de Monte Carlo auction in Monaco on November 25.

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Among the Old Master drawings that opened the large sale of drawings, paintings, furniture and objets at the Hôtel des Ventes de Monte Carlo (24/23/20% buyer’s premium) on November 25 was this 12½ x 9½in (32 x 21.5cm) study shown above, inscribed top right Le prince de la roche su.

The portrait depicts Charles de Bourbon (1516-65), who was the son of Louis I de Bourbon, Prince of Roche-sur-Yon, and Louise de Bourbon and a career soldier who took part in many campaigns across Europe. It was acquired by the vendor in 1980 from a sale of Old Master drawings held by Sotheby’s in London.

Members of the court

The drawing is reckoned to be part of a collection of more than 500 portraits by Jean and François Clouet (c.1485-1540 and c.1510-72) and their studio featuring members of the court, spanning the reigns of François I to Charles IX, which was assembled by Catherine de Medici (1519-89).

After her death this collection was inherited by her daughter Christine de Lorraine, Archduchess of Tuscany, and the drawings sent to Italy. They stayed together till the 18th century when an English painter and art dealer, Ignazio Hugford, acquired them.

He attributed them to Hans Holbein and started to divide the group, selling many to English collectors. A large section of more than 300 is now in the collections of the Musée Condé in Chantilly.

When this work appeared at Sotheby’s in an Old Master drawings sale of 1980, as one of five drawings from the collection of the Earls of Sandwich, where it fetched a hammer price of £2800, it was described as school of François Clouet.

But, says the Monaco auction house in its catalogue entry (which was prepared with help from Alexandra Zvereva, who has written extensively about this group of Clouet drawings): “...they have since been recognised thanks to the characteristic inscription they all bear at the top and to their remarkable technical qualities, as coming from the celebrated group of Clouet drawings in Catherine de Medici’s collection.”

Master’s work

The drawing of Charles de Bourbon was accordingly offered in last month’s sale as a work by the French Renaissance master François Clouet himself, with an estimate of €100,000-150,000.

However a battle between seven phone bidders took the final price to seven times that level.

The buyer, said the auction house, was a “private collector who is a well-known figure in the art market”.

The price sets a new auction record for a drawing by François Clouet. The previous high, according to Art Sales Index, was the premium-inclusive $52,500 paid in 2010 at Christie’s in New York for a portrait of Jeanne Clausse, Dame de Lesigni, ascribed to the circle of François Clouet.

As with other works by the artist, the efforts have been concentrated on the face and hair, while the costume details (in this case armour) are rendered more sketchily. In Zvereva’s opinion, the work dates to c.1547.

At least two other Clouet portraits of Charles de Bourbon are known, both at Chantilly (one of them referenced in Sotheby’s 1980 catalogue). They are thought to post-date the Monaco example.

£1 = €1.1