01 A Paris auction house has found a $15.8 million drawing attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, the first such discovery in 16 years.
In March, a retired doctor visited French auction house Tajan with a file of unframed drawings. One of them, a pen-and-ink study of St. Sebastian tied to a tree, immediately caught the eye of Thaddée Prate, director of Old Master pictures. Prate sought a second opinion from an independent dealer and adviser, then a third from Carmen C. Bambach, curator of Italian and Spanish drawings at the Met
. Both outside experts attributed the work to
, with Bambach calling it an “open-and-shut case.” The drawing has been dated between 1482 and 1485, when da Vinci lived in Milan and painted the first version of The Virgin of the Rocks
(1483–86). According to Bambach, this represents the first undisputed da Vinci drawing discovered since 2000, when Sotheby’s offered up a chalk-and-ink study of Hercules and whirlpools by the Italian polymath. In accordance with French heritage laws, the country could declare this work a “national treasure” to prevent it from being exported. That would grant the government 30 months to produce a sum of money equivalent to “fair international market value” of the drawing.
02 ISIS militants have regained control of the historic city of Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site revered for its antiquities.
On Sunday, the Islamic State drove out forces loyal to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad who had been defending Palmyra since gaining control of the city last March in what was considered the first significant victory in the fight against ISIS. During the conflict, Russian warplanes launched 64 airstrikes, likely causing serious damage to the city, which dates back to the Neolithic era and was renowned for its ruins and antiquities. ISIS last captured the city in May 2015, whereupon, during their 10-month command, they destroyed and looted priceless artifacts, monuments, and architecture, including grave damage to the Arch of Triumph, the 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel, and ancient tombs dating as far back as A.D. 44. They also beheaded the city’s archaeological director. After recovering the city in March, Syrian antiquities officials and experts had begun talks about restoration efforts, though they estimated little could be done in the near term, given the city’s severe loss of life and infrastructure. At that point, many of the remaining valuables—namely the contents of the Palmyra museum—were moved to Damascus. Officials now fear the Islamic State will be even more destructive in its new tenure in the city. Syrian antiquities official Maamoun Abdulkarim told the Associated Press, “I fear they will be more vengeful.”
03 In the latest shift at the top of the auction world, Christie’s announced on Wednesday that CEO Patricia Barbizet will step down.
Barbizet will be replaced by Guillaume Cerutti, who currently serves as Christie’s president of Europe, Middle East, Russia, and India. A Christie’s press release says Barbizet initiated the change, which will see her continuing her role as CEO of the auction house’s parent company, Artémis, a position she retained during her two-year tenure at Christie’s. Barbizet will also continue to serve on Christie’s board as vice chairwoman, with owner François Pinault assuming the role of chairman. Barbizet joined the auction house as CEO in 2014, following the departure of Steven P. Murphy, and her role was often characterized as temporary. She is replaced by Cerutti, who previously served as deputy chairman in Europe and chief executive in France at competitor Sotheby’s, before leaving the house in 2015. He also served as managing director of the Centre Georges Pompidou
. With Barbizet remaining in a close advisory capacity to Cerutti, great change is not expected at the 250-year-old auction house. But the transition comes just one week after Brett Gorvy, chairman and international head of postwar and contemporary art at Christie’s, announced his departure from the house, to create Lévy Gorvy with dealer Dominique Lévy
. It also comes at a time when both Christie’s and Sotheby’s are struggling to convince collectors to consign top lots amid a cyclical contraction in the art market.
04 The Gurlitt trove of some 1,500 artworks, the discovery of which gripped the art world in 2013, will enter the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Bern, following a court ruling.
The decision by a Munich court ends a challenge by a cousin of Cornelius Gurlitt, Uta Werner, who contended that Gurlitt was mentally unfit when drawing up his will in 2014. In the will, Gurlitt bequeathed the collection—including works by
—in its entirety to the Swiss museum. Discovered in his Munich apartment as well as a home outside Salzburg, the works had been assembled by Gurlitt’s father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, an art dealer who collaborated with the Nazis. The collection’s seizure was brought on by a probe into potential unpaid taxes by the 81-year-old Gurlitt, only coming to light a year after police first raided the reclusive man’s apartment. It brought a wave of attention to the issue of Nazi-looted art and restitution. Five works from the Gurlitt hoard have since been restituted to their rightful heirs, but as many as 680 works still have questionable provenance. In the midst of this ongoing research, the Kunstmuseum Bern
has been preparing for exhibitions of the collection in Germany and Switzerland, a process that can now continue.
05 The lawsuit over artist Cady Noland’s disavowed Log Cabin sculpture has been dismissed, although the work’s authenticity was not addressed.