The original Hergé cover for Tintin and the Blue Lotus is being auctioned with an estimated value of €3m (£2.75m), more than 80 years after it was rejected as too colourful and given to a seven-year-old boy as a keepsake.
The Belgian artist had been pleased with his drawing for the cover for his fifth album of the adventures of Tintin in 1936, only to be told it would be too expensive to mass produce due to the use of four colours in the drawing of his heroic young reporter facing a dragon.
The drawing was instead given to Jean-Paul Casterman, the son of Louis Casterman, Hergé’s editor, after which it was folded six times and put in a draw. It stayed there until 1981, when the younger Casterman asked the author to sign it.
The drawing emerged once more in 1991 when the Hergé Foundation displayed it after taking it out on loan. From this week until 2 October it will go on show again in the Brussels headquarters of the Artcurial auction house before being taken to Paris for its sale in November. Fold marks remain visible on the painting to this day.
Eric Leroy, the auction house’s comic book expert, said: “This work is so emblematic that it could be bought by someone who has absolutely no other works of Hergé but who would think that with this one he would have the ‘Grail’, there is no need to have anything else.”
The cover drawing is expected to draw bids of €2m-€3m. A double-page ink drawing that served as the inside cover for all the Tintin adventures published between 1937 and 1958 sold for €2.65m to an American fan two years ago.
The Blue Lotus drawing, painted in India ink, watercolour and gouache, is expected to secure a higher price than that as it is 34cm x 34cm in size, larger than the regular 21cm x 21cm.
The story of the Blue Lotus involves Tintin heading for China in the hope of dismantling the opium trafficking industry.