This early Renaissance painting valued at just 5,615 GBP by an auction house has sold for over 5 million GBP after the buyer became convinced it might have been painted by Botticelli.
The painting, simply called “Portrait of a Young Man”, was auctioned by the Schuler Auction House in Zurich, Switzerland’s largest city in what they say is a record markup.
The painting shows a young man in a blue shirt with voluminous red hair holding a small twig in his right hand was estimated by the auction house to be worth between 5,000 and 7,000 CHF (4,010 and 5,615 GBP).
However, when the auctioneer closed the auction, the final bid stood at a whopping 6.4 million CHF (5.1 million GBP).
The auction, which reportedly lasted half an hour, ended with three people quickly bidding into the millions for the painting. When the price hit the four million mark, bidders were only allowed to raise by 200,000 CHF (160,432 GBP) per bid.
The winning bid came from an international art collector whose name and nationality were not publicly reported.
According to local media, it is estimated that with all expenses and fees included the buyer will likely spend 7.5 million CHF (6 million GBP) for the painting, of which an estimated 1 million CHF (800,000 GBP) will go to the auction house.
Schuler Auction House said the more than a thousandfold increase is the highest ever mark-up on any item previously sold at the auction house.
Art expert Klaus Lanker from the Swiss city of St Gallen said that even though the authenticity of the painting has not yet been verified many bidders were hoping to find an original Botticelli painting below the numerous overpaintings of the original object.
Lanker said he studied the painting before the auction and even placed a bid himself.
He said: “For me it is clearly a picture from Botticelli’s workshop.”
It is currently unclear if the painting really was painted by Sandro Botticelli, who lived from 1445 to 1510 and was the favourite artist of the influential and wealthy Medici family of Florence, Italy. His works rarely hit the market and are therefore much adored by collectors.
Auction house Schuler did not want to confirm the origins of the painting as the buyer has taken on that risk.
They did however have the work technically examined by the Swiss Institute for Art Research (SIK) which only reported that the painting comes from the late medieval or early Renaissance period.
Previously, the painting was part of the famous Grassi Collection in Florence until 1924, with the monogrammed letters ‘LG’ on the back possibly referring to Luigi Grassi. However, the auction house noted that this part of the painting’s history is “questionable”.
The painting came on the market for the first time in 1924 and was bought by a Zurich family for their private collection, which it remained part of until the auction.
Art expert Lanker said that at a certain point he had to stop bidding as the price went up too high.
He said: “I have already seen tens of thousands of paintings at auctions, but have never experienced such a price explosion. I think the risk is way too high.”
Lanker said that the buyer might be lucky if they can deconstruct the painting by removing the overpaintings, the number of which has not been reported, and if it then turns out that Botticelli himself painted the portrait and not one of his workshop employees.
He said: “Whether it is worth 6.4 million francs remains uncertain.”
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