Sale of the Century


The count down is on as we get ever closer to the sale of the century from Sotheby’s. Having tempted the Arab market by jetting the painting across for a viewing of, incredibly, just one day (they sense where the buyer might come from at this level) it is poised to become the second most expensive old master ever sold – currently the ‘Massacre of the Innocents’ by Rubens sold by Sotheby’s for a shade under £50 million in 2002 holds that spot whilst, of course, Leonardo’s ‘Salvator Mundi’ is in at number 1 at $450 million. This Botticelli by comparison represents a bargain, being offered at $80 million.

Interestingly nobody knows who it depicts. It touches on a point here which resonates with me. I happen to adore portraiture and have been instrumental in the sales of many over the years. Yet many people consider it odd to have an unknown man or woman hanging on the wall as opposed to a dramatic landscape. Of course the most famous painting in the world is just that – the Mona Lisa, the identity not definitely being known. However if you have one of the legend names of art history behind it – Leonardo da Vinci – and the estimated value is reaching beyond $850 million then of course people rate it and are happy to have printed reproductions of it on their wall.


The scarcity of the Botticelli is undoubted, but the same mind set is being applied. Nobody cares that it is a portrait.

It’s more what it represents to a potential buyer and the clever marketing of the auctioneers that get the public attention and hopefully the attention of a buyer with exceptionally deep pockets. At the prices being discussed it will be somebody outside the old masters world who will be the potential purchaser. It is the same as when Christies offered the Salvator Mundi by Leonardo – it is being offered in a sale that encompasses works across the art historical spectrum of key names that will resonate with any extremely wealthy individual who might be looking for status symbol artworks. Hence the jet tour to the Middle East.

We will see what happens but I’m sure it will do well, whether the sitter is known or not. I only hope the actual painting doesn’t disappear like the Salvator Mundi.