The Met's newly purchased Jacques-Louis David drawing (Image via The Art Newspaper)

The Met’s newly purchased Jacques-Louis David drawing (Image via The Art Newspaper)

What happens when you get the best art historians, curators, and conservators together in a single museum? Well, you’re pretty likely to get the best deals in the art world, as the Metropolitan Museum just did when it snagged a Jacques-Louis David drawing for $700 ($840 with premium).

In an auction at Swann Galleries on January 29, a small drawing catalogued as “French school, early 19th century” went to the block at an estimate of $500 to $700. It depicts the death of Socrates, that final moment in the philosopher’s life when he drinks hemlock after being found guilty of corrupting the young minds of Athens. The drawing is a lock for the Metropolitan’s David painting, “The Death of Socrates” of 1787.

David's "The Death of Socrates" ( ) (Image via

David’s “The Death of Socrates” (1787) (Image via

It might look derivative, but the careful eyes at the Metropolitan noticed that the slight changes in the poses of the composition’s figures hint that rather than a copy, the drawing was a preparatory study for the final painting, reports The Art Newspaper.

As might be expected, this makes the drawing much, much more valuable than $700. A similar David study for “The Lictors Bringing Brutus the Bodies of his Sons” from 1787 was auctioned in Paris last year for $665,142. If the Met were in it for the money, then they would have just closed a very profitable deal — but one expects this treasure to remain in the collection, to the great happiness of the museum’s acquisitions committee.

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly, Kill Screen, Creators...

3 replies on “Metropolitan Museum Snaps Up an Unrecognized David Drawing for $700”

  1. Well this obviously shows the camera-obscura use of drawing in a circular closet. Then trying to fix the perspective. But is it disco lighting?

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