Old Masters Market 2021

27 February 2022

Old Masters Market 2021

For those interested in the auction calendar of old masters, January is the starting time and New York is the starting point. These sales embrace paintings, drawings and sculptures of European artists of the Renaissance and the Early Modern period, whose works have been much sought-after throughout art history. Those extremely rare pieces consist of a significant portion of the yearly auction turnover, and real, sometimes hidden gems of well-known art collectors. Let me go through some of the big moments of the sales of the old master sales in 2021, with a focus on the most notable examples in each category.


Last year started with a record-breaking sale. Botticelli’s Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Roundel was undisputedly the star of 2021. This great Renaissance painter, who was in his time one of the artists under the patronage of the well-known Medici family, sparked a huge interest in the old masters market. Portraits painted by Botticelli are rare birds in the art market, and therefore, their appearance promises purely delightful moments for the collectors. Indeed, it sold for $92.2 million during Old Masters Week at New York Sotheby’s on 28 January, to become one of the highest valued portraits on the old masters market, coming after the record price paid for da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, which sold for $450m in 2017. Needless to say, Botticelli’s sale is a record for the Italian painter himself.


Leonardo da Vinci’s 15th-century bear drawing was another surprise of the year. The work on paper belongs to a series of animal sketches by the artist, who had a fascinating gaze of nature. Head of a Bear is among eight other drawings in private collections, and this marvelous piece has a remarkable provenance. It is worth noting that the second drawing of a bear, a walking one, is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The 7x7cm tiny drawing sold for a record price of £8.8m ($12.1m) at Christie’s London on 8 July.


Pietro and Gian Lorenzo Bernini's Autumn had an iconic presence in the sculpture category of old master auctions. Father and son collaborated to carve this large-scale work, productively combining their artistic visions. Gian Lorenzo Bernini is a big name in art history as he is associated with the Baroque style of sculpture to which he contributed immensely, so much so that many have credited him as the creator of this specific style. Having belonged to Hester Diamond’s private collection, which harbours a considerable number of masterpieces, the marble sculpture was regarded as an exceptional opportunity for collectors to join the bidding. The monumental work, 125.5 cm in height, was sold for $8.9 million, achieving an auction record for the artist.

As an ending note, I would like to mention some of exhibitions that might be of interest. Thomas Gainsborough’s Blue Boy is back in London! Art lovers are thrilled with the news that it is coming to The National Gallery. The artist is in many ways associated with the old masters, therefore the exhibition, which will remain open until 15 May, is highly recommended. Additionally, The Credit Suisse Exhibition of Dürer's Journeys: Travels of a Renaissance Artist in The National Gallery has also been remarkable for old master enthusiasts. Note that the exhibition will be closing by 27 February.

Written by Busra Hasboyaci, EduArt Experience Correspondent from London.