A previously unknown drawing by Leonardo da Vinci has been valued at £12.6m after being brought in for valuation out of the blue by a retired French doctor.
Paris auctioneer Tajan said that ‘extraordinary’ discovery came after the owner pulled out a bundle of unframed sketches.
The drawing by Leonardo was nearly missed by Thaddée Prate, director of old master pictures at the auction house, because he was in a hurry that day.
But after consulting other experts he confirmed its identity and today it was formally unveiled in Paris.
The sketch was one of eight drawings of the Martyred Saint Sebastian and marks the first time a Leonardo has surfaced like this since 2000.
It sparked shock among art experts who said that their ‘eyes jumped out of their sockets’ when they saw it.
Carmen Bambach, a curator of Italian and Spanish drawings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York, who helped in the confirmation, said: ‘The attribution is quite incontestable.
‘What we have here is an open-and-shut case. It’s an exciting discovery’.
Mr Prate told the New York Times that the fairytale story began in March when the doctor came to see him with the drawings collected by his bibliophile father.
Mr Prate was going through them when he spotted a pen and ink study of Saint Sebastian tied to a tree inscribed on the mount ‘Michelange’ (Michelangelo).
Mr Prate said he was in a ‘bit of a rush’ but was intrigued enough to seek a second opinion from Patrick de Bayser, an independent dealer and adviser in old master drawings.
Mr de Bayser found some smaller scientific drawings on the back of the sheet with tiny Renaissance style notes.
He also deduced the artists was left handed and recalled asking Mr Prate: ‘You can’t believe this is by Leonardo? But that would have been so incredible’.
Mr Prate sought Dr Bambach’s opinion too and she confirmed it was indeed a Leonardo.
She said: ‘My heart will always pound when I think about that drawing. It has so many changes of ideas, so much energy in the way he explores the figure. It has a furious spontaneity’
Little is known about the owner other than that he is from central France and that his identity is a closely guarded secret.
According to the New York Times, when told of the value the owner said: ‘I’m very pleased. But I have other interests in life other than money’.
Leonardo da Vinci, 1452-1519, is seen as the ultimate universal genius and was a painter, sculptor, architect, scientist and inventor.
The last such discovery of one of his works was in 2000 when Sotheby’s in London unearthed a black chalk and pen study of Hercules.
Should the drawing be auctioned off it could beat the current record for a Leonardo, which was £9 million at Christie’s in 2001 for a silverpoint study of a horse and rider.
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