The work is the second most expensive old master painting ever sold at auction, writes Des O’Sullivan

THE times are continuing to change as the online auction format is becoming mainstream at all levels of the market. In New York Botticelli’s Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Roundel has become the second artwork to have surpassed $80 million at auction since Sotheby’s pioneered a new live-streamed format last summer.

It sold for a record-breaking $92,184,000, shattering the previous record for a Botticelli by nine times. This was the highest price ever paid for an old master at Sotheby’s.

The painting, last purchased at auction for $1.3 million in 1982, now stands alongside Francis Bacon’s Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus which sold for $86.4 million at a live-streamed auction last June.

The Botticelli is the second most expensive old master ever sold at auction after Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi which made $450 million at Christie’s in 2017.

What is significant right now is that the Sotheby’s online sale last week attracted the highest number of participants ever seen by the auction house in a live-streamed event.

Around 66% of bidders registered online, many of them new to the auction house.

They might have wanted to just see the Botticelli, but they bid competitively for many works, including a marvellous c1450 Relief of the Madonna and Child by the Florentine Luca della Robbia which sold for $2,016,500.

A downturn in the world of auctions internationally and nationally last year was inevitable at a time of pandemic.

Aided by technology the market adapted fast to changed circumstances. Sales figures overall in 2020 were down even though demand, driven by online sales, remained strong. The middle market held up well, but there was a shortage of artworks in the upper echelons as sellers held back.

In 2021 online sales and technological innovation are seen as major drivers of growth and the international houses are expressing optimism based on the new realities of the market.

Irish auction houses are adapting fast. There are new buyers from far and wide at every online sale.

At Ted Hegarty’s online sale in Bandon last Sunday afternoon, an Irish collector beat off stiff international competition to buy four Paul Storr entrée dishes for a hammer price of €11,400. This is a specialty item.

Storr was England’s most celebrated silversmith in the first half of the 18th century and demand for his work is global.

In Ireland demand is driven by savings made from people not travelling abroad, not eating out or going to pubs, not commuting or buying clothes for work.