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What a $92 Million Painting Says About New Art Market Values

A Botticelli portrait illustrates how auction houses can test the price for “the best.”

Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Roundel before its Sotheby’s auction.

Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Roundel before its Sotheby’s auction.

Photographer: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP

In the lead-up to its auction in New York, Sotheby’s sent a 15th century painting by the early Italian Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli on a world tour, traveling from New York to Dubai, London, and Los Angeles in an effort to drum up interest.

While the painting was in London, a group of dealers, collectors, and curators who’d gathered to admire it got to talking: Was the “in excess of $80 million” estimate reasonable for an exquisitely preserved portrait of a beautiful young man in a sumptuous mauve doublet? Opinions varied to such a degree that an informal wager began. Everyone wrote down their bet on a piece of paper; the furthest from the correct price would have to buy the rest of them dinner.