Safety in Old Masters: Raphael fetches £29m
Record price for an exquisite Raphael drawing puts Hirst and co in the shade
The sale last night of Raphael’s exquisitely beautiful drawing, Head of A Muse, made as a study for the Parnassus fresco in the Vatican almost five centuries ago, marks a major shift by investors increasingly wary of the mercurial contemporary art market.
The Old Masters auction at Christie's took a total of £68.4 million, including £20 million paid for a Rembrandt portrait painted in 1658, soon after the artist was declared bankrupt. But in a fever of furious bidding, it was the record £29 million paid for the Raphael drawing that shows how hungry investors are for a safe bet.
Only two years ago, at a time when Andy Warhol's Lemon Marilyn was able to fetch $28 million in New York, a Raphael portrait of the great Renaissance art patron and Florentine art ruler Lorenzo de' Medici went for a modest £18 million. (It had last been sold at Christie's in 1892 as part of lot of 84 works which went for 567 guineas).
Prices for Old Master drawings seem likely to surge now, as gold reserves dwindle, bricks and mortar crumble, Dubai shivers like a mirage in the desert and contemporary art, from video to graffiti, becomes increasingly difficult to get your hands on, let alone purchase.
The new Turner Prize winner, Richard Wright, whose beautiful gold-leaf creation will be painted over at the end of the show at the Tate, rejects the idea of art as a commodity, in a throwback to the Seventies when artists deliberately created unsaleable works in the conceptual art movement in America and Germany.
But the big loser may prove to be Damien Hirst, whose diamond-studded skull, For the Love of God, was valued in 2007 at £50 million but made at a cost of £14 million. Hirst would have done better making his skull out of solid gold. ·
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