Cezanne Card Players sketch - will Qatari royals push price beyond $20m?

It seems you can wait years for a lost masterpiece to emerge, and then two come along at once. Hot on the heels of the recently uncovered Tamara de Lempicka painting Nu adossé I comes another - and even more important - rediscovered work.

The watercolour study by Paul Cézanne for his The Card Players series of paintings, which were completed between 1890 and 1896, has remained hidden since 1953. It was recently discovered in the collection of the late Dr Heinz F Eichenwald, a renowned art collector based in Dallas.

The discovery of any previously lost Cézanne work would be cause enough for celebration, but this particular work is special - it led directly to the creation of the world's most expensive artwork.

Cezanne Card Players sketch
The world’s most valuable gardener?

Cézanne's set of five The Card Players paintings is one of the world's most famous series of artworks, with four of the five works held by institutions such as the Musée d'Orsay and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The remaining work, and the only version in private hands, made headlines earlier this year when it was revealed it had been purchased by the Qatari royal family for a new world record price of $250m.

Although each of the paintings depicts different men playing cards around a table, one particular man is present in every one - Paulin Paulet, a gardener at the Cézanne family's estate. The rediscovered watercolour is a preparatory study of Paulet, sat in a pose which is instantly recognisable from the finished paintings.

"This remarkable study offers us a rare glimpse into this modern master's artistic process, showing us how he worked through the pose and positioning of the characters that would come to populate his greatest masterpieces," said Christie's international director of impressionist and modern art, Sharon Kim.

The historic importance of the sketch, which was described as "whereabouts unknown" by the catalogue of the recent travelling exhibition based around the series, cannot be overemphasised.

Its sudden rediscovery, combined with last year's record sale, means all eyes will be on Christie's in New York on May 1. It will be offered as part of its Modern Art Evening Sale with an estimated value of $15m - $20m, but here at Paul Fraser Collectible we think it could go far higher - if a certain royal family has anything to do with it...

For all the non-royals out there looking to invest in artwork by the 20th century's biggest names, we are currently able to offer work by artists including Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali. To view our list of investment-grade artworks, click here.

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