2021: the best works in January auctions

[08 Jan 2021]

The catalogues for the various different top-notch art auctions to be held this January have plenty of inspirational content. At Phillips there will be Contemporary prints by major signatures; at Christie’s there will be works by so-called Outsider artists as well as rare prints, while Sotheby’s will be offering some powerful masterpieces by Old Masters. Here is a quick overview of the best offers at the start of 2021.

We start by taking a quick look at the highlights of these sessions… with BOTTICELLI’s Portrait of a young man holding a roundel, one of the most significant portraits in auction history, and a rare biblical panel by REMBRANDT depicting Abraham and the Angels. Both are being offered by Sotheby’s during its Master Paintings & Sculpture Part I sale on 28 January in New York.

Botticelli and Rembrandt liven up the start of the year

botticelli portrait

Sandro Botticelli, Portrait of a young man holding a roundel, Tempera/panel (39,4 cm)

With Botticelli’s Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Roundel, Sotheby’s is effectively offering one of the most emblematic works of ‘early’ painting. On the one hand, portraits by the Florentine master are extremely rare; only about ten have survived to this day and this is the last one remaining in private hands (the others being kept held in institutional or museum collections). On the other hand, this Botticelli portrait, painted from an angle in around 1490, paved the way for an artistic change in the midst of the Italian Renaissance when the codes of the time wanted portraits to show profiles. The work is estimated at around $80 million, a staggering figure given that its current owner, Sheldon Solow, paid $1.4 million 38 years ago. Moreover, as Botticelli’s current auction record stands at $10.4 million for Madonna and Child (Christie’s, 2013), the sale of this portrait will set a new auction record for the Italian painter whose current record in no way reflects his historical importance.

rembrandt abraham & 3 angels

Rembrandt, Abraham and the Angels, Oil/panel (16.1 x 21.1 cm)

The other gem is a small 16 x 21 cm painting by the Dutch master Rembrandt. Abraham and the Three Angels (1646) is a rare work inspired by a scene from the Old Testament. Among the 136 biblical paintings by Rembrandt, the one being offered by Sotheby’s is one of five still in private hands. Purchased for around $5 million in 2005, this small panel is now estimated at between $20 and 30 million. Before it goes on sale, the work will be exhibited in Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Amsterdam and London. Sotheby’s catalogue also includes a strong selection of 17th century Dutch and Flemish paintings, including still lifes by Rachel RUYSCH and Willem Claesz. HEDA, as well as a number of impressive portraits by Aert DE GELDER and Anthonius VAN DYCK.

Old Masters and Outsiders

JE Liotard Portrait Cramer

J.E. Liotard, Portrait of Jean Cramer, Pastel/paper/canvas (63,5 x 53,8 cm)

On 14 January, Christie’s Old Master & British Drawings (online) sale will feature works from the 15th to the 19th century, with a particular focus on drawings by great French artists of the 18th century. Christie’s is notably expecting between $400,000 and $600,000 for Portrait of Philibert Cramer by Jean Étienne LIOTARD, a work that could well join the artist’s Top 10 best auction results. A superb study in red chalk by Jean-Honoré FRAGONARD, Young Woman Dozing (1762), is estimated between $300,000 and 500,000. Five days later and again online, Christie’s will disperse a selection of prints including five rare hand-colored mid-15th century German etchings, a lithograph by French artist Carle Vernet and masterpieces by virtuoso Albrecht DÜRER in an altogether high-quality sale.

Bill Taylor, Man on White, Woman on Red / Man with Black Dog


Christie’s is also planning a sale of Outsider and Vernacular Art on 21 January, featuring several drawings by Bill TRAYLOR, whose latest freshly-hammered record stands at $507,000 (Man on White, Woman on Red / Man with Black Dog), various constructions by Thornton DIAL, a selection of European and Asian artists such as Carlo Zinelli and Hiroyuki Doi, and… notable pieces by American artists Minnie Jones EVANS and Clementine HUNTER. On the same day, Phillips will be offering Contemporary prints with estimates ranging from $15,000 to $200,000 for Pop Art by WARHOL, a tortured Triptych by Bacon, or even a Pool by David Hockney… a perfect opportunity to dive – once again – into the joys of the auction world.