Old Master Paintings


Sotheby’s Old Masters team has been the dominant force in the market for a generation. In 2020 we met global challenges with digital innovation and great success both in the number of sales held and in our remarkable results. Our global team once again led the market, selling a higher value of Old Masters at auction than any competitor for the eighth time in the last ten years including the sale of Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait for £14.5 million. At the beginning of 2021, we sold Sandro Botticelli's Portrait of a young man holding a roundel for $92.2m, making it one of the most valuable Master paintings ever sold at auction.

Our success is due to the remarkable tenure of our team of over twenty specialists, seven of whom have worked together at Sotheby’s for over thirty years; our understanding of the ever-evolving marketplace; our unparalleled relationships with collectors old and new; and our focus on quality, bringing the very best works to market. The market has become ever more international, attracting collectors from all over the globe.

Innovation is at the heart of what we do, and Sotheby’s Old Masters team is constantly breaking new ground in the ways we both promote and sell Old Masters. In 2018 and 2019 we collaborated with Victoria Beckham in what would become one of the most successful marketing campaigns of the year across the whole art market, and we launched the largest ever selling exhibition of Old Masters in Asia with great success. In 2019 and 2020 we engaged in partnerships with influential voices including Fabrizio Moretti, visual artist and drummer of The Strokes, and collaborations with culture-conscious brands like streetwear company HighSnobiety and Bulgari. In 2020 we also partnered with Old Master galleries and dealers across the world to present unique online-only auctions that supported our industry through challenging times.

The department offers paintings by European artists from the late 13th to early 19th centuries. In London, our major Old Masters auctions take place in July and December; in New York in January and May; and in Paris in June. We hold auctions of more moderately valued works throughout the year in both London and New York. Consignment deadlines are typically eight weeks prior to the sale.

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If you wish to enquire about the possibility of offering a work in one of Sotheby's Old Master Paintings sales, please click here.

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Old Master Paintings Private Sales

Brokering private sales constitutes a significant portion of Sotheby’s business, and when we believe that a private transaction is in a seller’s best interest, we wholeheartedly recommend it. We have a long history of conducting private sales outside the context of our public auction rooms and consistently realize exceptional results for our consignors. Private sales are an increasingly important part of Sotheby’s business and Old Master Paintings have been an integral part of this growth.

When it comes to purchasing a work at the highest level, a collector must have trust and confidence in the team of specialists advocating the purchase of the work. Sotheby’s Old Master Paintings department, whose senior members have been in place for well over twenty years, is unmatched in expertise. Our team has extensive knowledge of the Old Master Paintings market and its intricacies, providing us with a unique ability to advise our clients on value, quality, conservation and expertise.

Access to Buyers
Sotheby’s international team of experts has years of experience conducting private sales and possesses highly specific knowledge about the market for Old Master Paintings. Sotheby’s leads the field in Old Master Paintings as a direct result of our close professional relationships with the most important collectors and institutions around the world. We can identify private individuals, corporate collections and museums specific to the profile of the painting, and our experience in the auction business has given us privileged access to these key prospective buyers around the globe. Our senior experts, many of whom have upwards of 25 years of experience, have an established global network of top collectors with whom they are in regular contact. 

Leadership in the Market
Under the direction of George Wachter and Christopher Apostle in New York, and Alexander Bell and George Gordon in London, Sotheby’s has led the field in Old Master Paintings. Our team has achieved many of the top prices for Old Master Paintings, including the longstanding auction record for this category: Peter Paul Rubens’ long lost Massacre of the Innocents, which sold for an incredible $76.7 million. Our strength in the global market is a testament not only to the depth of our knowledge and experience, but also our commitment to our clients. Time and again, we deliver on our promises and provide stronger returns for our consignors.

Confidence in the Transaction
Our experience means that not only do we have close connections to every likely buyer, the top conservators, and the leading members of the scholarly community, it means that you will be expertly guided through every step of the sale process. Our team will ensure that all sales are conducted with the same high standards and due dilligence as our auction sales, and all transactions are negotiated according to the proper legal guidelines.

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