This January, Sotheby’s will offer works by many of the most celebrated names in European art history during its flagship Masters Week, a series of seven auctions encompassing Old Master paintings, drawings and sculpture spanning more than half a millennium. Focused around two of the highest value Old Master Paintings ever offered at auction, this first major global sales series of 2021 will be headlined by Sandro Botticelli’s masterpiece Young Man Holding a Roundel, one of the most significant portraits of any period ever to appear at auction, and a defining work of the Florentine Renaissance, and Rembrandt’s rare biblical scene of Abraham and the Angels.
Two of the sales in this Masters Week series will be presented in Sotheby’s signature global livestream auction format: Master Paintings & Sculpture Part I on 28 January and Fearless: The Collection of Hester Diamond on 29 January. Bidders will be able to place bids with Sotheby’s specialists via phone in New York and London, or via Sotheby’s interactive online bidding platform.
Master Paintings & Sculpture Part I
Global Livestream Auction: 28 January
It was in Early Renaissance Italy that portraits of notable individuals first came to be considered high art. Florentine master Sandro Botticelli was at the forefront of this transformation, depicting his subjects in the second half of the 15th century with unprecedented directness and insight – decades before Leonardo da Vinci painted his enduring Mona Lisa. Botticelli was celebrated in his own time and sought out, from an early age, by the richest of patrons for commissions that only they could afford. But while he created some of the most arresting and penetrating portraits in the history of Western Art, only around a dozen examples have survived today – with almost all of them now residing in major museum collections. Sotheby’s will offer one of Botticelli’s finest portraits, Young Man Holding a Roundel, with an estimate in excess of $80 million, which will establish it in art market history as one of the most significant portraits, of any period, ever to appear at auction.
Measuring just 6 ⅜ by 8 ⅜ inches (16 x 21cm), Abraham and the Angels is a profoundly beautiful, gem-like painting on panel from 1646 that stands among the finest works by Dutch Golden Age master Rembrandt van Rijn ever to come to auction. The painting last appeared at auction in London in 1848, when it sold for £64, and returns to the auction block this January with an estimate of $20/30 million. Of the total 136 biblical paintings Rembrandt produced, the work is one of only five remaining in private hands, with the large majority in prominent museum collections. Among these biblical paintings, only 29 depict Old Testament scenes, with the panel to be offered representing one of only two examples in private hands.
The sale includes a strong selection of 17th-century Dutch and Flemish paintings, from impressive portraits by Aert de Gelder and Sir Anthony van Dyck to still lifes by Rachel Ruysch, Willem van Aelst, Ambrosius Bosschaert, and Willem Claesz. Heda, whose depiction of A banquet piece with an overturned tazza and oysters ranks among the best of his lengthy and successful career (estimate $2.5/3.5 million). An extremely rare canvas of the Descent from the Cross by Hugo van der Goes highlights the Renaissance section (estimate $3/5 million), which also includes works from the great early Italian painters Apollonio di Giovanni, Taddeo di Bartolo, and Sano di Pietro, and a wonderful glazed terracotta relief of the Madonna and Child by Luca della Robbia on offer from the Albert-Knox Art Gallery (estimate $700,000/1 million).
The sale also includes a number of important paintings from the 18th and 19th centuries, including a pair of large landscapes by Hubert Robert, a charming painting by William Bouguereau, and a large-scale gold ground of the Greek goddess Erato by Frederic, Lord Leighton (estimate $700,000/1 million).
Fearless: The Collection of Hester Diamond
Global Livestream Auction 29 January
Part II Online Auction Open for Bidding 22 – 29 January
Hester Diamond was a fearless and visionary collector whose inquisitive nature and bold, distinct point of view is evident throughout her collection. Her daring independence of mind and curious spirit is amply reflected across these two sales.
Leading the live sale is an exceedingly rare sculpture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and his father Pietro titled Autumn, one of only a handful of sculptures by Bernini and his father that remain in private hands (estimate $8/12 million). Few artists have changed art history as significantly as Gian Lorenzo, who is remembered as the greatest sculptor since Michelangelo, and whose artistic achievements gave life to the new figurative language of the Baroque, which dominated all of Europe for nearly two centuries. Carved between 1615 – 1618 when Gian Lorenzo was only a teenager, the exceptional and powerful Autumn, symbolizing abundance and rebirth in the guise of an unbridled man of the woods reaching for a piece of fruit, is an indisputable masterpiece by Bernini in which Gian Lorenzo’s early talent is already amply evident.
Bernini’s work very rarely comes up for auction, with the last piece, a terracotta bozzetto or sketch, titled Il Moro, selling in 2002 at Sotheby’s London for $3.2 million, the current auction record for the artist. Amongst the significant group of paintings in the collection includes an impressive triptych of The Nativity, The Adoration of The Magi, The Presentation in The Temple by Pieter Coecke van Aelst (estimate $2.5/3.5 million) and a pair of magnificent canvases of The Sicilian Games and The Plague at Pergamea by Dosso Dossi painted for Duke Alfonso I d’Este’s camerino d’alabastro in Ferrara (estimate $3/5 million).
The Collection of Hester Diamond Part II features Hester’s extensive collection of exquisite minerals and gems, alongside memorabilia from her son Michael Diamond, aka Mike D of the Beastie Boys, modern design pieces encapsulating her vibrant style, and an assortment of Old Master paintings and sculpture art books that lined Hester’s floor to ceiling bookcases, offering a glimpse into the vast art historical knowledge that she forever chased. All modern design, all art books and most of the minerals in this sale are sold without reserve and all of the seller’s proceeds for the Beastie Boys memorabilia lots will benefit the Good Eats Program (www.goodeatsprogram.org).
Old Master Drawings
Auction 27 January
Star of the sale is an extremely rare figure study by the young Anthony van Dyck for his early masterpiece The Healing of the Paralytic, now at Neuburg an der Donau (estimate $2.5/3.5 million). The half-length chalk study of a bearded old man is the most important of all those that Van Dyck made circa 1617-20, and encapsulates all that the brilliant young artist was capable of as a draughtsman, at the pivotal moment, in his late teens, when he was interacting most intensely with his great mentor, Sir Peter Paul Rubens, and also finding his own firm feet as an artist. No other Van Dyck drawing of similar significance and quality has appeared on the market since this sheet was itself last sold at auction in 1986.
Equally rare is Francesco Guardi’s magnificent depiction of festivities in Venice, The Return of the Bucintoro from S. Nicolò di Lido (estimate $600/800,000). One of the largest and most significant drawings by the artist to remain in private hands, and unseen on the market since 1920, this is the pair to the Regatta on the Grand Canal, recently acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum.
Among the selection of British drawings are two superb, and very different, watercolours by Joseph Mallord William Turner R.A. The first, Lake Lucerne at Dusk, is one of the celebrated, atmospheric Swiss views, executed during the final decade of the artist’s life, which in many ways define Turner’s image and achievements as a watercolourist (estimate $700/900,000). The last appearance at auction of this widely published and exhibited work was at Sotheby’s London in 2007, in the sale of the extraordinary collection of Turner watercolours assembled by Baron and Baroness Guy Ullens. Dating from two decades earlier, circa 1824/5, The River Washburn, near Lindley Bridge, Yorkshire, a classic example of Turner’s understated English topography, has been owned by just two families since it was made: it first belonged to Turner’s most important early patron, Walter Fawkes of Farnley Hall, Yorkshire, whose descendants sold it in 1937 to the family of the present owners (estimate $120/180,000).
From Taddeo to Tiepolo: The Dr John O’Brien Collection of Old Master Drawings
Auction 27 January
Dr John O’Brien has been discreetly but enthusiastically assembling his remarkable collection of 16th to 18th Century Italian drawings for the last 55 years. The collection is led by an extremely fine double-sided sheet by Taddeo Zuccaro, a powerful assemblage of studies for the artist’s frescoes in the Frangipani Chapel of the Roman church of San Marcello al Corso (begun 1558/9) (estimate $180/220,000). Other highlights of the collection include a freely drawn depiction of Felicity and Fortune by Annibale Carracci (estimate $100/150,000), as well as an outstanding compositional study by Corrado Giaquinto for his major altarpiece, The Translation of the Relics of Saints Acutius and Eutychetes from Pozzuoli to Naples, in the Duomo in Naples (estimate $40/60,000). Alongside these are no fewer than 16 excellent drawings of all types and periods by the great Venetian masters Giambattista Tiepolo and his son Giandomenico, including a particularly rare and lively compositional drawing by Giambattista for his etching of The Discovery of the Tomb of Punchinello (estimate $60/80,000). There are also a small number of French and Spanish drawings in the collection, most notably a complex and powerful drawing of The Lamentation of Christ by Jusepe de Ribera (estimate $40/60,000)