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Art & History

Meeting a maestro of masterpieces who crossed Leonardo Da Vinci's path

Patrick de Bayser presides over a private gallery that continues to present and discover master works of drawing.

Photo credit:

Chris Welsch

Patrick de Bayser’s office feels more like an art gallery than a traditional French bureau. On one wall, there’s a Théodore Géricault painting; on another a piece by a student of Édouard Manet; on another, a drawing by Raymond Espinasse. Even on a cloudy afternoon in late November, light streams through the tall windows, evenly illuminating the works of art hanging on the walls.

It probably feels like a gallery because the office doubles as both. For the past 40 years, the de Bayser family has occupied the second floor of a building in the second arrondissement, where they have bought, sold and displayed some of France’s most coveted drawings.

Patrick comes from a true dynasty of drawing connoisseurs: the family business dates back to his grandfather, who started collecting in 1936.

“We really have everything here,” Patrick says. “It starts in the end of the 15th century and goes up to the beginning of the 20th. The gallery is focused on drawings, but we have paintings and sculptures, as well.”

It’s somewhat of a trick to find the Galerie Bayser. Stepping off narrow rue Sainte Anne, one enters an elegant courtyard that was once the focus of a Parisian mansion. Visitors still enter the building through the original iron door built for the Marquis de Louvois in 1674.

The space where the gallery is now has known a number of different tenants — from its original inhabitants, 17th-century aristocrats, to more recently a fine fabrics seller. Today, the fabrics have been replaced by tableaux, although the long, wooden tables the textiles were kept in remain.

Patrick points out the 17th-century windows, and the dark wood flooring. “There’s something quite pleasant about looking at old things in an old space,” he says.

Guests to his gallery will enjoy the serene and elegant rooms of the gallery, but also discover the process of what Patrick does as a collector of rare drawings: how to spot the difference between a replica and the real thing, who to call for a second opinion, how to discern the technique and the paper used in an old sketch.

His years of experience paid off three years ago when he discovered an original Leonardo Da Vinci drawing of Saint Sebastian estimated to be worth more than $15 million in a stack of artwork someone had brought into the office. The drawing, which will go on auction this year, is not in the huge Leonardo retrospective currently at the Louvre in Paris, but the extensive media coverage of the find shows how work by the artist and other Renaissance masters continues to fascinate the public.

Patrick has been doing this for a long time. He developed a passion for appraising and collecting drawings when he was just 12 or 13 years old and spent the next dozen years learning the trade. Eventually, he joined his father in the business. He still works with his three brothers, keeping the family aspect of the business alive.

“When I was a child, there were drawings hanging everywhere on the walls and drawings coming in and out of the house,” he says. “It was just natural for me to live with rare drawings and maybe that helped me to better understand them.”

Discovering the Da Vinci drawing in the course of his daily work still astounds Patrick.

“For me it’s the peak of my career. It’s something I would have never imagined in my life,” he says.

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