THE emergence of a magnificent Michelangelo drawing, whose whereabouts have been unknown since it was exhibited in London in 1836, is this summer's biggest sale room sensation. Christie's is to offer it for sale on Tuesday and everyone expects it to be bought by the Getty Museum of Malibu, California - the world's richest museum - for around pounds 3m. Indeed, dealers and collectors are all so convinced the Getty will buy it that it is conceivable that nobody else will bother to bid.
Beyond saying that the drawing comes from a British collection, Christie's has provided no inkling of whose it is. However, I am told by a well-informed dealer that it has been hiding for a century and a half at a house called Great Tew in Oxfordshire. Major Eustace Robb, who lived there until his death in 1985, had fought to keep commuters out of his village and had allowed his home and most of the village to fall into a state of extreme decay.
The Michelangelo is known to have belonged to the celebrated British portraitist, Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769- 1830), who formed a legendary collection of Old Master drawings but died in financial difficulties. His drawings were aquired by his principal agent and creditor, an art dealer called Samuel Woodburn. Woodburn held 10 selling exhibitions in the course of 1835-36; the Michelangelo was in the last of them and priced at 250 guineas. There has hitherto been no record of who bought it.
The subject of the drawing is The Rest on the Flight into Egypt; Michelangelo has worked out an extraordinarily mannered composition with the Christ child bending over backwards to reach for his mother's milk.
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