Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Medallion, Sandro Botticelli
Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Medallion, Sandro Botticelli

Painted at the end of the 15th century, the masterpiece ‘Young Man Holding A Medallion’, by the legendary Florentine artist Sandro Botticelli, was sold on January 28 in New York for 92.2 million US dollars. Starting with a pre-sale estimate of 80 million US dollars, the auction organised by Sotheby’s fell slightly short of the expectation to make a 100 million US dollars.

The painting is one of about a dozen Botticelli portraits that have survived the time. His larger works, such as ‘Birth Of Venus’ and ‘Primavera’, can still be seen at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy.

The January 28 auction was carried out using telephone calls and internet messages, on account of the pandemic restrictions. The organisers have so far not revealed the identity of the buyer.

‘Young Man Holding A Medallion’ was previously bought for 1.3 million US dollars by its former, also unidentified, owner at an auction in 1982.

Millstones, Claude Monet
Millstones, Claude Monet

Art experts have always maintained that Botticelli’s masterpieces represent the refinement of Florentine high society during the Renaissance period. The medallion in the young man’s hand shows the face of a saint much revered by the Italians of the era.

Museums and galleries may be closed all over the world but moneymaking through art has not come to a halt

However, all these details bring us to an even more exciting topic: which are the other most expensive art pieces ever sold in the world?

Naturally, we cannot include in this list all famous paintings owned by the museums for the simple reason that museums never intend to sell them. So let us just call them “priceless.” Top of this list could be Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’ at the Louvre Museum in Paris, assessed nevertheless by art traders at more than 850 million US dollars.

Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers, Vincent Van Gogh | Photos by the writer
Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers, Vincent Van Gogh | Photos by the writer

To this we could also add ‘Vase With Fifteen Sunflowers’ by Vincent van Gogh, who was able to sell only one painting during his lifetime — ‘The Red Vineyard’ that brought him seven francs, making him able to eat his dinner. After being sold at high prices a number of times, today the latter canvas is part of the collection of the Pushkin Museum in Moscow and is considered another priceless art piece. ‘Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers’ was, on the other hand, auctioned in 1987 at 95 million US dollars, in today’s value.

Add to this list the sale, at a Christie’s auction in London in 1985, of Andrea Mantegna’s ‘Adoration Of The Magi’, which was at bought by the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California, for 19.3 million UK pounds. Exactly 18 years earlier, the National Gallery of Art in London got hold of da Vinci’s ‘Ginevra de’ Benci’, a property belonging to the princely family of Liechtenstein at the time, for 38 million US dollars.

Then there are some other stunning examples. Da Vinci’s ‘Salvatore Mundi’ was bought at a Christie’s auction in New York in 2017 by Prince Badr bin Abdullah of Abu Dhabi for 450.3 million US dollars, the highest price ever paid for an artwork. 

The Scream, Edvard Munch
The Scream, Edvard Munch

Let us add to our list the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch’s creation ‘The Scream’, painted in 1895 following a walk on a bridge when “the setting sun suddenly turned the atmosphere blood red, making me frightened and wanting to shriek in horror”, according to the artist’s own explanation. The work was sold in May 2012, once again by Sotheby’s, to an unnamed buyer in New York, for 120 million US dollars.

Among modern painters, Pablo Picasso remains certainly at the top as far as high-priced sales are concerned. While he had already become rich during his lifetime, his ‘Women Of Algeria’ was sold in 2015, 42 years after his death, for 180 million US dollars. The name of the buyer remains unrevealed, at least officially, but a number of newspapers claim it was bought by a Sheikh of Qatar.

Contrary to Picasso, French painter Claude Monet, the inventor of the impressionist technique, essentially devoted his life to countryside landscapes during late 19th and early 20th centuries, living and working comfortably and not wasting his time trying to sell his paintings. Monet’s ‘Millstones’ was sold in New York in 2019 for a little more than 110 million US dollars.

This list could go on and on, but let us remain content with the fact that though museums and galleries are closed all over the world at the moment, moneymaking through art has not come to a halt!

The writer is an art critic based in Paris. ZafMasud@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, EOS, February 21st, 2021

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