Botticelli and Magritte… two masterpieces to start the art auction year in style


As the year’s first quarter gets underway, several major works of incomparable quality are already earmarked for public sale, and their presence is in itself an indicator of the tremendous surge of confidence currently coursing through the veins of the art auction market. This week, Artprice looks at the two masterpieces being brought to market by Sotheby’s between January and March 2022.

An exceptional Botticelli

A clear highlight of the year’s opening salvo is an absolute jewel by Sandro BOTTICELLI called The Man of Sorrows. Sotheby’s will be offering the work on 27 January in New York with an estimate above $40 million that could well be exceeded. The portrait of a suffering Christ painted at the end of Botticelli’s career cannot fail to remind us of another painting by the Florentine master, Portrait of a young man holding a roundel, sold in January 2021 by the same auction house for the record amount of $92 million.

That portrait generated the 2nd best-ever auction result for an Old Master, the absolute record being that hammered for LEONARDO DA VINCI‘s famous Salvator Mundi which fetched $450.3 million at Christie’s in 2017.

For George Wachter, co-director of Old Master Paintings at Sotheby’s, “”To auction a work of this quality by Botticelli is a major event in the world of Old Masters, but to do so a year after the historic sale of Botticelli’s Portrait of a young man holding a roundel is indeed a once-in-a-generation phenomenon.

The Man of Sorrows also contains a secret: a drawing representing a Virgin and Child was recently discovered under the portrait of Christ during an infrared analysis! This little “extra” should have a stimulating effect on the bidding.

According to the latest Artprice data for the full-year 2021, the global market for Old Master works generated $951 million from 17,400 lots sold. Although Sotheby’s has established itself as the leader in this segment with a 23% market share (ahead of Christie’s at 20% and Poly at 18%), this hasn’t stopped them emerging as one of the great pioneers of the ultra-contemporary and NFT markets. Alongside the emergence of ultra-contemporary art and the digital art revolution, old masterpieces remain and will undeniably remain universal and solid-value assets.

A major Magritte

One of the 17 paintings from René MAGRITTE’s Empire of Lights series will be auctioned by Sotheby’s in London on 2 March. In fact, according to Helena Newman, the president of Sotheby’s Europe, it is the most “charismatic” painting of this famous series of 17 paintings, and it stands out as an essential classic in the history of Modern art.

A masterpiece of 20th century art, The Empire of Lights brings together the two most fundamental elements of everyday life – day and night. With its impressive dimensions, this cinematic painting draws the viewer into Magritte’s timeless universe” (Helena Newman).

The “impressive” dimensions are 114.5 x 146 cm. The work was completed in 1961 for Anne-Marie Gillion Croue, daughter of Pierre Croue, the painter’s best friend, patron and collector of Surrealist art in Belgium.


A chronological analysis of the number of lots sold at auction reveals a peak in demand for René Magritte (nearly 230 lots sold in 2021). (Copyright


On public display at Sotheby’s galleries in Los Angeles, Hong Kong, New York and London before it goes on sale, The Empire of Lights is expected to renew Magritte’s auction record.

This emblematic canvas is clearly coming to the market at the right time: Magritte’s price index has already posted a +353% increase since 2000 and demand is stronger than ever for works by the Surrealist artist whose transactions volume sold has just reached a historic record. In this very favorable context, Sotheby’s believes The Empire of Lights could flirt with $60 million, i.e. more than double the artist’s current record for his Le principe du plaisir ($27 million, Sotheby’s, November 2018).