By Lillian Zheng 4:53 am PST
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It was sold for a record 18.7 million, a greeting-card sized self-portrait, painted in 1632 by Rembrandt, the everlasting Master.

Quietly on New Bond street in London, Sotheby’s conducted its first visual auction since the Covid-19 lockdown began in Europe. Featuring works spanning 500 years of history, the Rembrandt to Richter auction was the first cross-category auction, hosting pieces from the Renaissance, to modern contemporary art through a variety of mediums, from paintings to sculptures.

Having participants across three of its offices – London, New York and Hong Kong, Sotheby’s settled with $193 million with the new and past collectors.

Business isn’t as usual during the pandemic, as many businesses have gone virtual. Sotheby’s is no exception, but it isn’t limited by the change. Besides its live stream, the auction house also invited 20 masked clients to its London showroom as part of a  live audiences for the occasion. Bidders from 47 countries participated in the sales, and Sotheby’s recorded 150,000 viewers during its three-and-a-half-hour bidding show.

Orchestrated by Mr. Andrew Graham-Dixon, the world-famous art critic, Sotheby’s carefully recorded its art campaign through its pre-auction exhibition walking tour and broadcasted online prior to the show. Sotheby’s made an excellent choice by featuring his hour-long art presentation to detail its collections. Mr. Graham-Dixion’s ability to translate the art into vivid narratives has expanded the auction’s value and reached new audiences passionate about art and art collecting.

Though the majority of the art works are contemporary, the auction particularly highlighted Rembrandt in its pre-sales campaign. In the title of the auction, “Rembrandt to Richter,” most might not be familiar with Richter, but Rembrandt would certainly draw international attention. “It’s really appropriate that the sale was led from an Old Masters perspective by someone as modern as Rembrandt,” said Andrew Fletcher of Sotheby’s.

The Rembrandt self-portrait, wearing a ruff and black hat, is an 8 5/8 inch by 6 3/8 inch oil portrait painted on an oak panel. It was believed to have been a quick painting by Rembrandt completed in 1632 in Amsterdam. An auctioneer stated the painting was “a once in a generation opportunity.” This small-scale Rembrandt self-portrait last sold in 1970 for a mere $850.

Sotheby Rembrandt Auction
Sotheby’s auctioneer Oliver Barker conducts this unique global online betting evening from the London saleroom. Photo/Sotheby’s

Although Rembrandt was in the spotlight, the auction’s highest sale went to Joan Miró, with his Peinture Femme au Chapeau Rouge, a modern abstract piece completed in 1927 which sold for $28.9 million. Without Rembrandt, however, the show might just have been a commodity exchange between riches.

While the world is battling with Covid-19, hundreds of thousands have lost their lives, and people are social distancing more than ever, who would buy art these days? Sotheby’s thoughtful auction in highlighting Rembrandt and finding a creative way to connect with art buyers during the pandemic had hammered the art world with its enduring market.