Da Vinci ‘Head of a Bear’ could sell for over $16 million at upcoming auction

Leonardo da Vinci's "Head of a Bear" sketch will go up for auction in July.
Leonardo da Vinci's "Head of a Bear" sketch will go up for auction in July. (Image credit: Christie’s2021)

A small sketch of a bear's head by Leonardo da Vinci may sell for up to $16.9 million at an upcoming auction in London. 

The sketch, known as "Head of a Bear," measures 2.75 inches by 2.75 inches (7 by 7 centimeters) and was drawn on a pale pink-beige prepared paper, according to a statement from Christie's auction house, which is organizing the July 8 auction.  

The sketch is one of fewer than eight Leonardo da Vinci drawings that are privately owned and not part of the Royal Collection and the Devonshire Collections at Chatsworth in the U.K., according to Christie's. Da Vinci made the sketch of the bear, gazing timidly to the side, using silverpoint, or a piece of silver such as a wire. He learned this technique from his master Andrea del Verrocchio, an Italian painter and sculptor, according to the statement. 

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Leonardo da Vinci is best known for his paintings, such as the "Mona Lisa," but he was also an architect, inventor and scientist, according to Live Science. Da Vinci drew similar sketches to the bear's head in the first half of the 1480s, including two cats and a dog on display in the British Museum; a sketch of a dog's paws on display at the National Galleries of Scotland; and a sketch of a walking bear that’s on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, according to the statement. 

"Head of a Bear" resembles the face of an ermine that da Vinci painted in the portrait of Cecilia Gallerani known as "Lady with an Ermine," which is held in the Krakow Museum in Poland, according to the statement.

The sketch can be traced back to the collection of English painter Sir Thomas Lawrence, according to the statement. When Lawrence died in 1830, his dealer sold the sketch at a Christie's auction for $3.50 (2.5 British pounds). It was first exhibited publicly in 1937 and has since been displayed in museums around the world.

"I am delighted that this masterpiece, one of the most important works from the Renaissance still in private hands, has once again been entrusted to Christie’s after its first sale in 1860," Ben Hall, the chairman of Old Master Paintings at Christie's New York said in the statement. "The work has been owned by some of the most distinguished collectors in the field of Old Masters across many centuries, not least the present owner, who has owned it since 2008."

The sketch of the bear will be exhibited at Christies' in Rockefeller Center, New York, starting on May 8, then will be shown at Christie's in Hong Kong between May 20 and May 25. From there, it will arrive in London and be on display from June 1 to June 6 before being auctioned off, according to the statement.

The sketch is expected to sell for anywhere between $11.3 million to $16.9 million (8 million to 12 million pounds).

Originally published on Live Science.

Yasemin Saplakoglu
Staff Writer

Yasemin is a staff writer at Live Science, covering health, neuroscience and biology. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Science and the San Jose Mercury News. She has a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Connecticut and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.