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Da Vinci bear drawing expected to sell for up to $16.5 million in London

Christie's auction house called the piece an "exquisite demonstration" of the artist's "unsurpassed mastery as a draughtsman."
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LONDON — A drawing by Italian Renaissance master Leonardo Da Vinci, one of the last to be sold, is expected to fetch $16 million when it's auctioned on Thursday.

Estimated to be more than 500 years old and just 2.75 by 2.75 inches, the drawing known simply as "Head of a Bear" will likely be sold for $11 million to $16.5 million, the auction house said.

"An exquisite demonstration of Leonardo da Vinci’s unsurpassed mastery as a draughtsman and of his ground-breaking attitude towards the study of nature, this penetrating study of a bear’s head is one of a very small number of drawings by him still in private hands," Christie’s said in a statement on its website.

Leonardo da Vinci's "Head of a Bear".
Leonardo da Vinci's "Head of a Bear".Christies Images Ltd 2021

It added that the drawing was created using a technique called "silverpoint," in which a thin, silver stylus is applied to specially treated paper. Da Vinci learned it from his master, Andrea del Verrocchio, the leading artist in Florence at the time.

The drawing is one of four similarly sized studies of animals that Leonardo made in silverpoint at around the same time, according to the auction house. The other three include drawings of a bear waking, a dog’s paw, and a cat and a dog.

The drawing was previously owned by British painter and collector Sir Thomas Lawrence, before being sold at Christie's in 1860 for 2.50 pounds ($3.4), according to the auction house. In the first half of the 20th century, the drawing belonged to another British collector, Capt. Norman Robert Colville. It remained in Colville's trust and was eventually bought by its current owner, whom Christie's did not identify, in 2008.

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Since its first public exhibition in 1937, it has also been shown at museums around the world.

The last drawing by Da Vinci to come to auction was in 2001 at Christie’s when "Horse and Rider" sold for more than $11 million, the record price for a silverpoint work by the artist, according to the auction house.

Da Vinci's painting of Jesus Christ known as "Salvator Mundi," or "Savior of the World," sold for a record $450 million to an undisclosed bidder in New York in 2017, although some art experts remain divided over whether Da Vinci in fact painted the work.

Da Vinci, born in 1452, is considered to be one of the world’s most influential minds, known not just for his art, but ground-breaking vision, and his talent as an inventor, scientist and engineer.