Impressionist & Modern Art

Paris, Capital of Drawing

By Carole Blumenfeld

O n 23 March this year, for the first time, Sotheby's will hold Œuvres sur Papier sale of Modern and Contemporary drawing to coincide with Drawing Week in Paris, an event which will reinforce the strong position that France holds in this field. To celebrate this, we met two of the big names attached to drawing in Paris, Hélène Bailly and Nicolas Schwed.


"Drawing is inevitably very intimate and that suits Paris particularly well" Hélène Bailly tells me, going on to praise "the magical and astonishing effervescence" of this very special week. The grand-daughter of an antiques dealer, the daughter of one of the biggest dealers in old masters, wife of Félix Marcilhac, the heir to the oldest Paris gallery devoted to 20th-century decorative arts. At on 35, she has made a name for herself in the world of modern and contemporary drawing, and takes part in the Salon du Dessin which is held every year at the end of March in the Palais Brogniart, which she calls an 'institution': "I do nine fairs a year, but the Salon du Dessin is the one closest to my heart. Something very special happens there." The whole of Paris gets working together: a number of dealers like Nicolas Schwed show on the edge of the fair, which increases the number of exhibits, particularly since the auction houses and museums in Paris and the Ile de France also programme special exhibitions of their collections during this time.


These events in turn attract many collectors, curators and lovers of drawings to Paris from all over the world, but it is also an excellent opportunity to bring this relatively under-exposed field in art history to a wider public. Over the last few years a great deal of groundwork has been devoted to helping researchers and curious individuals explore this area. While the Salon du Dessin has just celebrated its 25th anniversary and was joined ten years ago by Drawing Now Paris, the relationship between Paris and drawing dates back much further. When he passed through Paris for the third time in 1778, Mozart told his father how surprised he was to discover exchanges between art lovers, artists and collectors about drawing. And visiting the Duc de Chabot, who held a genuine drawing school at his home in the Faubourg de Saint-Germain, frequented by Fragonard, Hubert Robert, Vien, Lagrenée, Duhameau, Pierre Desfriches and Moreau le Jeune, he observed the duchess "sitting down and drawing for a whole hour, surrounded by other gentlemen all seated in a circle around a big table. […] In the end I played on their wretched and awful piano-forte. But the worst thing is that Madame and all these Messieurs did not abandon their drawing for an instant, and on the contrary continued without interruption."


Unlike England and the Netherlands which, in the 18th century, were also great markets for drawing, Paris never lost its status. Nicolas Schwed believes that since the Second World War there are fewer collectors of old drawings in England, and that only the markets in Paris and New York are of any importance, the first for its number of lovers of drawing, and the second because of their appetite. He also stresses what he calls an anomaly: "In New York they have the best-informed collectors in the world, but relatively few dealers. Paris, on the other hand, is the centre of the world of drawing for one week a year, but it is also a very active market throughout the year."


He is a dealer himself – and also an art historian. He has published catalogues raisonnés of Ferraù Fenzoni and Pietro Faccini, and is currently working on the catalogue of the French drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Schwed was also been responsible for commissioning exhibitions dedicated to collections of Italian drawings in private French hands, at the museums of Caen and Rennes. He considers that drawing can be collected almost endlessly, unlike painting, because hundreds of unframed sheets can be kept in boxes or specially designed items of furniture: "In this respect, the clientele is unique."



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