Sotheby’s Unveils a $40 Million Botticelli in Hong Kong as Asian Appetite for Old Masters Works Grows

Sotheby's has unveiled another Sandro Botticelli work in Hong Kong following an earlier record-breaking sale in January.

Sandro Botticelli's The Man of Sorrows will be unveiled in Hong Kong as the appetite for Old Master work grows. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Sotheby’s is offering a high profile preview of a $40 million Sandro Botticelli work in Asia at its Hong Kong autumn sales series this week following a record-breaking sale earlier this year in New York. The offering paves the way for possible future auctions of Old Master works in the region as collectors’ appetite for blue chip western pieces continues to grow.

The work to be unveiled on Thursday in Hong Kong is The Man of Sorrows, a portrait of a resurrected Christ that was executed in the late 15th or early 16th century, a later period in the famed Renaissance artist’s career. With a pre-sale estimate in excess of $40 million, the work is a star lot of the auction house’s annual Masters Week in New York, which takes place in January next year. The work, which carries a pre-auction financial guarantee, will tour London, Los Angeles, Dubai, and New York before the sale.

The painting will hit the auction block almost exactly a year after the January 2021 sale of Young Man Holding a Roundel, which fetched $92.2 million in New York and set a new artist record and a record of the most valuable work ever sold in an Old Masters auction. The work went to an anonymous phone bidder but the underbidder was from Asia, Sotheby’s said.

Sandro Botticelli's Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Roundel, (c. 1444/5 – 1510) at Sotheby's New York. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Sandro Botticelli’s Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Roundel, (c. 1444/5 – 1510), which broke records at Sotheby’s New York in January 2021. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Christopher Apostle, Sotheby’s head of Old Master paintings in New York, called the Hong Kong unveiling of The Man of Sorrows an “exciting new thing.”

“The Old Master team has seen an upsurge in interests in Old Master painting in Asia,” Apostle told Artnet News over a phone interview, adding that the Asian announcement is the right approach as “Botticelli is a blue chip name that everyone knows” in the region. The Hong Kong Museum of Art had staged the exhibition Botticelli and His Times—Masterworks from the Uffizi in 2020.

Sales of western modern and contemporary works have been successful in Asia in recent years. Apostle revealed that collectors from Asia do not just come from mainland China and Taiwan but also Japan and other areas. He added that the auctioneer’s London team has been cultivating new collectors from the various nations and that some clients are in their 30s.

“They are sophisticated people who really dedicated their time to study towards a painting. They are interested in art history, go to museums, and they spend the time to go to Rome or Amsterdam to study the works in their original locations,” Apostle said.

So far though, major international auction houses have been hosting preview exhibitions of Old Master paintings in Hong Kong while often selling the works in London or New York or through private sales. But hosting Old Masters auctions in Asia is not entirely impossible, according to Apostle.

“We have thought about offering Renaissance works in Asia,” he said. “As the market becomes more deep in Asia, we could consider Old Master auctions in Asia. Maybe that’s the future.”

Meanwhile, more blue chip western art pieces from various periods are expected to be selling in Asia in the upcoming quarter of the year. Christie’s has announced that it will offer a monumental Gerhard Richter painting Abstraktes Bild 747-1 at its Hong Kong 20th and 21st century art evening sale on December 1. China Guardian will be launching its inaugural Impressionist and modern art evening sale as part of its 2021 autumn auctions in Beijing in mid-November, featuring a 1913 Claude Monet painting titled Bassin aux nymphéas, les rosiers and other works by Paul Cézanne, Camille Pissarro, and Pablo Picasso.

Sotheby’s Hong Kong modern and contemporary art evening and day sales will be held on October 9 and 10.

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