Old Masters: a ray of light… but a touch of disappointment

[02 Feb 2021]

Sotheby’s eagerly awaited “Master Painting & Sculpture Part I” sale in New York on 28 January took a total of $114.5 million. With almost all eyes focused on the sublime Botticelli portrait, the sale’s other masterpieces were somewhat overshadowed. Part II of Sotheby’s Old Masters sale was organized exclusively online between 22 and 30 January and concluded with a total of $7,5 million.

Having hammered more than $5 million from Master Drawings on 27 January, Sotheby’s opened its prestige sale the following day with BOTTICELLI’s Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Roundel, a rarity painted at the pinnacle of the Renaissance artist’s career – at the end of from the 15th century – when Botticelli also produced The Birth of Venus and Spring.

Given the rarity and attractiveness of the work, a failure seemed unthinkable. But it took only one minute – between two phone-in collectors – to reach the winning bid of $80 million ($92.2 million incl. fees) reflecting the simple fact that few collectors can compete at such a price level.

Ambrosius Bosschaert

Ambrosius Bosschaert

Nevertheless… the work changed hands… and it was a much-needed positive signal for Art Market confidence at the start of the year. Moreover, it allowed Sotheby’s – America’s leading Fine Art auction vendor (according to 2020 turnover) – to hammer its all-time record for an Old Master artwork and to maintain its lead over Christie’s, whose prestige sales are not scheduled until March.

The other notable results came from a Relief of Madonna and Child (circa 1450) by Andrea DELLA ROBBIA which fetched over $2 million, twice its high estimate. In the same price range a Still Life by Rachel Ruysch found a buyer at $2.2 million ($700,000 above its high estimate) and a magnificent bouquet by Ambrosius I BOSSCHAERT sold for $2.3 million… $800,000 above its optimistic estimate.

Overall, Sotheby’s total revenue from the sale was satisfactory with 70% of lots sold for Part I and 77% for Part II. But there were still a couple of disappointments including the BI of a touching scene depicting two children on the bank of river by William Adolphe BOUGUEREAU (Au bord du Ruisseau) which was expected to sell for over a million dollars.

Another disappointment was caused by the absence of a work by REMBRANDT that was ultimately not presented for sale. Abraham and the Angels, a panel measuring 16 x 21 cm, looked set to produce one of Rembrandt’s best auction results with an estimate of $20 – 30 million. But a private transaction was apparently concluded before it went to auction…


Rembrandt, Abraham and the Angels