The Contadinella [Little Farm Girl] by Francesco Paolo Michetti (1851 – 1929) was sold at Il Ponte, a Milan auction house on 21 June 2007 (lot 927) for 2,100 euros. The drawing then reappeared, vandalized, at Bloomsbury Rome on 5 June 2008 (lot 213C) as the Contadina Abruzzese [Abruzzo Farmer], and sold for 9,500 euros. This happened five years ago, although I only learned of it from some alert art dealers recently. With everything photographed, and then posted on the internet, it’s incredible that they should have had the temerity to do this.
The pastel study by Michetti may have been left unfinished. Or maybe he had brought it to the state he wanted it to be. The unfinished nature of drawings is central to their appeal, at least to me. I’ve wondered whether the lack of finish allows the looker to complete it in their own mind, making them all the more satisfying.
Clearly, the someone who had the Michetti drawing, was not satisfied. The girl’s head was worked up, her hair was given highlights, she grew a bust, and the blue background was softened and lengthened. The raggedy little farm girl was even given a necklace. The paper measurements were ever so slightly changed. And, the someone was rewarded by a 7,400 euro gain.
One of my critics said that I should speak about Rubens’ retouching of drawings. However, I feel that’s for another post.