French masterpiece shown for first time in 84 years

Tue Jun 2, 2009 4:52pm EDT
 
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By Christine Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - A long-lost masterpiece by French painter Jacques-Louis David was shown publicly for the first time in 84 years at Sotheby's in New York on Tuesday ahead of its auction in London.

The 1813 drawing called "Alexander watching Apelles painting Campaspe," will be sold at an Old Master Drawings sale at the auction house in London on July 8. It is expected to fetch up to 800,000 pounds ($1.2 million).

"There are very few of these large elaborate drawings by him," Gregory Rubinstein, Sotheby's head of old master drawings, said in an interview from London.

He described the work as "a beautiful sensual image" that David presented to his favorite pupil, Baron Gros, in 1820.

Since then it disappeared from public view and remained in private hands, only being referred to in various literature throughout the 20th century.

The drawing shows Alexander the Great commissioning a portrait of his lover Campaspe from his court painter, Apelles, who immediately fell in love with his new subject.

Rubinstein said it was the most important drawing by David to appear on the market in decades.

Even under the current economic climate, Sotheby's said it expects the drawing and the rest of the auction to produce strong sales.

"Old masters have been a solid investment for many generations so people have the confidence to be collecting in this area," said Rubinstein.

(Reporting by Christine Kearney, editing by Patricia Reaney)