2015-06-26 10:49:09

Sotheby’s is an international auction house whose headquarters are based in New York, United States. The company is the fourth oldest auction house in existence and has described itself as being “now the largest” auctioneer in the world.

Landmark events in Sotheby’s history include its sale of The Goldschmidt collection in 1936 which brought the popularity of art auctions to a new level.

It was also the first auction house to hold auctions on the internet, beginning in the year 2000.

Sotheby’s main rival is Christie’s, with each company vying for the position of the world’s pre-eminent fine art auction house.

Company history

Samuel Baker, founder of Sotheby’s held the first-ever sale under his own name on March 11, 1744.

He auctioned the library of the Rt. Hon. Sir John Stanley “containing several hundred scarce and valuable books in all branches of Polite Literature.” The sale grossed a few hundred pounds, according to Sotheby’s.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Sotheby's concentrated on books, manuscripts, and prints. After World War I it specialised in 19th and 20th century works, particularly Impressionist paintings.

Peter Wilson, who became company director in 1936, helped to take Sotheby’s onto the international stage with high-profile sales including of The Goldschmidt collection.

It opened an office in New York City in 1955.

Sotheby’s acquired auction company Parke-Bennet in 1964, then regarded as the United States largest fine art auction house. A major Sotheby’s sale in 1961 saw Rembrandt’s 'Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer' sell to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a record $2,300,000.

In 1967, Sotheby’s opened new offices in Paris, Los Angeles and Houston. Zurich, Munich and Edinburgh offices were established in 1968.

Management and ownership

Sotheby's Executive Committee is headed by Michael I. Sovern, Chairman, The Duke of Devonshire, Deputy Chairman and William F. Ruprecht, President and Chief Executive Officer.

In 2009, New York Magazine's Vulture website reported that SAC Capital, whose CEO is hedge-fund billionaire and art collector Steve Cohen, had amassed a 5.9% stake in the auction house since October 1, becoming one of its larger shareholders.

Departments and expertise

See main article: List of Sotheby's departments

Sales avenues

Sotheby's holds floor auctions in its various offices around the world, including in London, New York, Hong Kong and Moscow. It is one of many auction houses to introduce online and real time bidding via its official website; most recently Sotheby's Asia in August 2010.

In 2002, Sotheby's and eBay teamed up to introduce Live Auctions Technology to enable online bidders to participate in its traditional auctions in New York and London.

Sotheby's Australia is an independent auction house set licensed under the Sotheby's brand. Its expertise includes Aboriginal art, Jewels and furniture and decorative art.


Catalogues for Sotheby's sales can be ordered at its website

Visitors to its website are also invited to subscribe to receive regular sales publications from any of its global sales departments.

Sotheby’s at Auction is an exclusive luxury magazine "created for the world’s leading collectors," according to its website. An online edition has since been introduced offering "access to artists, private collections, museum exhibitions, art-world events and more."

Publisher Assouline took residence inside of Sotheby's New York City headquarters in early 2009, trading as Assouline at Sotheby's. Its periodical titles include Asian Art and The Allure of Beauty.

Global expansion

In May 2007, Sotheby's opened an office in Moscow in response to growing interest among Russian buyers in the international art market.

Today, there are more than 100 Sotheby’s offices around the world.

Notable auction sales

Main article: The Gospels of Henry the Lion

On December 6, 1983, Sotheby’s sold a single book, The Gospels of Henry the Lion, for more than £8 million pounds.

After the death of the French Emperor Napoleon, the books taken with him to exile in St Helena were consigned to a Sotheby’s auction.

Upon joined Sotheby’s in 1936, company head Peter Wilson endeavoured to take the company onto the world state. This included capitalising on the growing popularity of Impressionistic and Modern paintings, resulting in the Goldschmidt sale of 1958.

The evening auction saw the Goldschmidt collection bring £781,000 – the highest ever total reached in a fine art sale at the time. Cézanne’s Garcon au Gilet Rouge was sold to Paul Mellon for £220,000 – more than five times the record for a previous painting at auction.

Attendees included Kirk Douglas, Lady Churchill and hundreds of art dealers. Sotheby’s own website describes the auction as “possibly the most exciting art auction of the century.”

In 1961, Sotheby’s sold Rembrandt’s Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a record $2,300,000.

An auction described by Sotheby’s as “one of the most stunning” happened in Lake Geneva in 1987 with the sale of the jewels of Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor. In an “intensely competitive” environment before a celebrity audience, the sale grossed $50,000,000.

Notable sales in 2011

See main article: Sotheby’s Top 10 biggest international auction sales of 2011

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