Last week, global audiences watched in awe as Sotheby’s sold a rare 15th-century Sandro Botticelli portrait for $92.2 million in New York, making it the second-most expensive Old Masters lot ever auctioned. While the Botticelli went on to over-perform, a minuscule Rembrandt painting poised to be one of the sale’s top works failed to impress—the guaranteed lot was withdrawn in the days before the auction began.
Now, however, it appears the Rembrandt has found a home after all. The small biblical scene, titled Abraham and the Angels, was sold through Sotheby’s private sales channel at a price within its original estimate of $20 million–$30 million, the house said on Thursday. The painting came from the collection of Metropolitan Museum of Art trustee Mark Fisher, who purchased the work in 2006 from former dealer Otto Naumann.
Its sale marks one of the highest publicly recorded prices for Rembrandt, putting it not far behind Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo (1658), which sold at auction in 2009 for $33.2 million and the artist’s auction record. The new sale is also within the realm of the $25.8 million achieved by another biblical scene by Rembrandt, Saint James the Greater (1661), which was auctioned in 2007.
There have, however, been higher prices achieved for Rembrandt works that sold outside public salesrooms. In 2016, the Dutch and French governments, working on behalf of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Louvre in Paris, jointly acquired Rembrandt’s rare pendant portraits depicting Dutch couple Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit. Facilitated by Christie’s, the works were purchased through a private deal for €80 million ($96 million) each.
The sale of Abraham and the Angels caps a successful Old Masters week for Sotheby’s that netted $160.5 million with premium. Though the collective sale total hammered at $135.7 million, just below the $137.4 million low estimate, the figure is up 40.6 percent over the $95.4 million achieved in January 2020. The Botticelli portrait accounts for 57 percent of the 2021 week’s total sales.
For Sotheby’s, private sales have remained strong during the pandemic. In December, despite a 27 percent drop in year-over-year auction sales, the house reported that annual private sales rose by 50 percent, to $1.5 billion, in 2020.