What are some of the most expensive artworks to have ever been sold at auction, and why do record-breaking auction performances seem to be on the rise?

11 March, 2021

Last month, we witnessed the historic sale of Florentine master Sandro Botticelli’s ‘Young Man Holding a Roundel’, which achieved an astonishing $92.2 million at Sotheby’s Master Week in New York. This price made it the most valuable Master painting ever sold at auction, in addition to being the most valuable portrait of any era ever sold. This news sparked us to look back at some of the most expensive artworks sold by auction houses in the last few years and ask ourselves why record-breaking auction performances seem to be on the rise.


Sandro Botticelli, ‘Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Roundel’, c.1480-84


Last June, Sotheby’s organised a marathon virtual sale, which was conducted remotely by auctioneer Oliver Baker in London and generated an impressive total of $363.2 million. The sale was led by Francis Bacon’s ‘Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus’ (you can now purchase this print on our site here), which sold just over its pre-sale estimate of $80 million. Whilst the pricey sale of Bacon’s was unsurprising, Sotheby’s also saw eight new records being broken during the marathon, including late Canadian artist Matthew Wong’s ‘The Realm of Appearances’, which went under the hammer for $1.8 million, beating his former record price of $62,500.