2020: A YEAR OF CHANGE
A TRADITIONAL BEGINNING
Our first sales of last year were held in late January in New York, before the onset of the pandemic. We have held our principal New York Old Masters sales of paintings, drawings, and sculpture at this time for over four decades. Our 2020 season once again underlined Sotheby's preeminence in the Old Master market in New York, realizing a total of $95.4 million for the week.
The Old Master Drawings sale totaled $15.1 million, achieving the highest-ever sale result for the second consecutive year. Andrea Mantegna's The Triumph of Alexandria led the auction, selling for $11.7 million, a new auction record for a drawing by the Renaissance artist and the 5th highest auction price for an Old Master Drawing.
Our Master Paintings Part I sale, the main event of the week, made over $61 million, the highest total for such a sale since 2012, with seven new auction record prices including one for Giambattista Tiepolo, whose 8-foot tall Madonna of the Rosary made over $17 million.
ADAPTATION AND INNOVATION
Within two months, circumstances had changed completely – a global health crisis resulting in lockdowns across the world, travel restrictions, and huge economic disruption.
Having invested heavily in our digital infrastructure and sale platform, we were able to pivot nimbly from a conventional auction model to an online one. Our first sale in this new online format, The Rafael Valls Sale. took place in London in April and proved to be hugely successful, achieving 4x its low estimate with 98% of the lots finding buyers.
During the remainder of the year, we held an additional 10 online-only Old Master sales, producing phenomenal results, selling to existing clients whilst also reaching an entirely new client base, with averages of between 25-30% new bidders in each sale. This new sale platform was so successful that the percentage of lots sold in each of our sales actually increased after the first global lockdown in March.
This also compared very favorably to the rest of the market, with Sotheby's having a sell through rate more than 10% higher than our nearest competitor.
Our Summer season in London, as we emerged from the first lockdown in the UK in July, culminated with an historic live sale: Rembrandt to Richter.
The Rembrandt to Richter sale was conducted in our new live-stream format and featured works from the Old Master, Modern British, Impressionist and Contemporary categories in a way that has never been done before.
The sale produced the record price for any Old Master offered in 2020 when Rembrandt's Self Portrait of 1632 made $20.3 million.
By the end of the year, when measured against our nearest competitor, Sotheby's had handled the sale of 63% (by value) of Old Masters to come to the market in 2020, underlining our position as long-term market leaders.
2021: A RECORD BREAKING START
Our January Masters Week auctions in New York this year were the first major auctions of 2021 and performed exceptionally well. The week brought in a record total of $182.5 million.
Across the 7 auctions of Master Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture held during our January Masters Week:
• 882 lots were offered, with 83% finding buyers
• 63% of sold lots achieved prices above their high estimate
• 20% of buyers were first time buyers to Sotheby's
• 41% of buyers were new buyers to the Old Master Department.
Our Master Paintings Part I sale totaled $114.5 million, the highest total ever achieved in an Old Masters sale. Led by Botticelli's Young Man Holding a Roundel, the sale was watched by over 1.3 million people as it was livestreamed across the globe. Selling for $92.2 million, the Botticelli set an artist record and is one of the most valuable portraits ever sold.
The Old Master Sculpture market continued to thrive in January 2021 with the sale of exceptional sculpture and paintings from Fearless: The Collection of Hester Diamond and with records set across Masters Week for important three dimensional works.
The star of Hester Diamond's collection, Autumn by Pietro and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, sold for $8.9 million, an auction record for the artists. The result is one of the highest prices ever realized for an Old Master Sculpture at auction.
Fearless: The Collection of Hester Diamond Part I established 18 artist records for paintings and sculpture. The two-part single-owner auction achieved a total of $28.6 million.
Another highlight and record setting price of the week was the sale of Luca della Robbia's glazed terracotta relief of the Madonna and Child (c.1450) which achieved $2 million.
The Old Master Drawings sale and single owner presentation of The Dr. John O'Brien Collection of Old Master Drawings demonstrated that the market for works on paper remains extremely strong in 2021.
This January's Old Master Drawings auctions totaled $7.1 million, a value more than 20% above their combined high estimate, with an extraordinary sell-through rate across both sales of 84.2%.
Record auction prices were achieved for drawings by several major artists including Francesco Guardi, Guercino, and Jan Breughel the Younger. Guardi's The Return of the Bucintoro from S. Nicolò di Lido had not been seen on the market since 1920 and sold for an impressive $1.2 million.
The sales also saw a remarkable amount of museum activity: no fewer than 9 drawings sold to 8 different museums across the globe.
UPCOMING 2021 AUCTIONS & DEPARTMENT CONTACTS
With an end to the pandemic now in sight, we look forward to the prospect of welcoming clients back to our galleries in the near future.
We have a busy schedule of global sales this Spring and Summer, culminating in our next major Old Masters event, our London Marquee sale on 7th July.A schedule of forthcoming sales is set out on this page. For sale, exhibition, and contact information, please visit our department pages linked below.