Fine Art Auctioneers: History, Services, Auction Records.

The Scream (1895)
By Edvard Munch. Sold in 2012 at
Sotheby's New York for $119.9 million.

Sotheby's: Fine Art Auctioneers


One of the World's Leading Art Auctioneers
World Record Prices Set at Sotheby's Auctions
Sales of Irish Art
Price-Fixing Controversy

For details of the world's most
highly priced works of art, see:
Top 10 Most Expensive Paintings
Top 20 Most Expensive Paintings



Garcon à la Pipe (1905). Picasso.
Sold for $104.2 million (2004).
Most expensive painting sold at auction.

One of the World's Leading Art Auctioneers

The firm of Sotheby's, established in 1744, is now one of the worlds leading auctioneers of fine art painting, antiques, jewellery art, precious objects and sculpture, with a global network of over 100 offices and salesrooms, including New York, London, Paris, Moscow, Geneva and Kong Kong. Like Christie's, Sotheby's is used by art collectors around the globe, and holds numerous world records for the highest prices achieved in various categories of fine art. Indeed, some of the greatest paintings - as well as some of the greatest sculptures - have passed through the company's hands. Its annual revenues for 2013 totalled $853.7 million.


The original founder of Sotheby's, the Englishman Samuel Baker, held the first-ever sale when he disposed of the library contents of the Rt. Hon. Sir John Stanley, for several hundred pounds. On Baker's death in 1778, ownership of the firm was divided between his nephew, John Sotheby and his partner, George Leigh. The Sotheby family dominated the firm until the mid-19th century, becoming noted for several important disposals - including the libraries of the (exiled) former French Emperor Napoleon I and other important figures like the Statesman Prince Talleyrand, the politician John Willkes, and the many rich aristocrats.

Rideau, Cruchon et Compotier (1894)
By Paul Cezanne. Sold in 1999 by
Sotheby's New York for $60.5 million.

See the following articles:
Art Evaluation: How to Appreciate Art
and How to Appreciate Paintings.

See: Most Expensive Irish Paintings.

For the greatest view painters, see:
Best Landcape Artists.
For the greatest portraitists
see: Best Portrait Artists.
For the greatest genre-painting, see:
Best Genre Painters.

For the different types,
see: Definition of Art.


The company also expanded into related areas such as fine art prints, coins and medals, and later into paintings and objets d'art.

By 1917, the firm's expansion necessitated larger premises, and it relocated from its Wellington Street base to its now famous New Bond Street salesroom in London. This move coincided with immense growth in the market for Old Master paintings, drawings and other works of art. However, Sotheby's emergence as a truly international auction house did not occur until the mid 1950s, when Peter Wilson took charge and astutely capitalized on the huge rise in demand for Impressionist and Modernist paintings.

In 1955, he opened a New York office, and began to make the art-auction a special event.

His celebrated London sale of the Goldschmidt collection (consisting of 7 modern masterpieces) in 1958 was a pivotal moment and perhaps the most exciting art sale of the century. Held in the evening, with over 1,400 invited collectors, art dealers and celebrities from all over the world, the auction of all seven lots took exactly 21 minutes, fetching an unheard of £781,000, the highest amount ever recorded for an auction of fine art. Garçon au Gilet Rouge by Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) was hammered down to Paul Mellon for £220,000, more than five times the previous record for a painting at auction.

In 1964, Sotheby's acquired Parke-Bernet - the largest fine art auction house in America - seizing an important hold on the rapidly developing United States market for Modern art. The acquisition of Parke-Bernet's distinguished track record of selling major art collections at record prices was the single most important commercial step taken by Sotheby's to ensure its status in the international art market.

To further secure its access both to collections and potential investors, the company opened new offices throughout the 1960s in Florence, Houston, Los Angeles, Melbourne, and Toronto. In the 1970s, additional networks were opened in America, Europe and Asia, and the firm went public. Its 1977 share issue was oversubscribed 26 times, and by 1979 the Sotheby's share price had doubled. In 1983, the company was purchased by American millionaire A. Alfred Taubman and a small group of investors.

During the 1980s, the international fine art and antique objects auction market was galvanized by several important sales - attended by a host of celebrities and millionaires. In 1987, Sotheby's hosted the auction of the Duchess of Windsor's jewels for $50,000,000: a sum more than five times higher than pre-sale estimates. In 1989, the firm grossed a staggering $1.1 billion from sales in New York and London.

Towards the end of the decade (1988), the company went public for the second time.


During the downturn of the 1990s, the firm's main offices in London and New York, underwent extensive renovations. In New York, by 2000, six additional floors had been added to its York Avenue headquarters, including a gallery that has been described as "one of the great dramatic exhibition spaces of New environment to rival almost any of the city's museums." By 2001, Sotheby's was able to open a second base at Olympia in London to complement sales at its New Bond Street headquarters, doubling its gallery space in London. In addition, by the turn of the Millennium Sotheby's was the first international art auction house to hold auctions on the Internet.

World Record Prices Set at Sotheby's Auctions

Sotheby's has achieved numerous world record prices at its art auctions for works by Old Masters as well as the world's top contemporary artists.

The Scream (1895), by Edvard Munch. Sold by Sotheby's New York in 2012 for $119.9 million. One of the most iconic paintings in the history of expressionist painting.

Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) (1963), by Andy Warhol. Sold in 2013 by Sotheby's New York for $105 million. The most expensive example of pop art, and a typically voyeuristic example of Andy Warhol's Pop Art of the sixties.

Garçon à la pipe, by Pablo Picasso. Sold for $104.2 million in 2004 at Sotheby's New York. A classic work of modern art, and the costliest example of naturalist figure painting.

Dora Maar au Chat, by Picasso. Sold in 2006 at Sotheby's New York for $95.2 million.

Triptych 1976, by Francis Bacon. Sold at Sotheby's New York in 2008
for $86.3 million. The world's second-most expensive triptych, after Portrait of Lucien Freud - also by Bacon.

Nude Sitting on a Divan (1917), by Modigliani. Sold by Sotheby's New York in 2010 for $68.9 million.

White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose) by Mark Rothko. Sold by Sotheby's New York in 2007 for $72.8 million. The world's secon most expensive example of Colour Field Painting, after Orange, Red, Yellow (1961) also by Rothko.

Bal Au Moulin de la Galette (1876) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Sold for $78.1 million in 1990 at Sotheby's, New York. One of the most famous Impressionist paintings in the world.

Massacre of the Innocents (1611) by Peter Paul Rubens. Sold for $76.7 million in 2002, at Sotheby's, London. One of the best Baroque paintings, this work by the Flemish Baroque artist is the most expensive oil by any of the Old Masters.

Untitled (1952), by Mark Rothko. Sold in 2014 by Sotheby's New York for $66.2 million.

1949-A-No.1 (1949), by Clyfford Still. Sold by Sotheby's New York in 2011 for $61.7 million.

Rideau, Cruchon et Compotier (1894), by Paul Cezanne. Sold in 1999 by Sotheby's New York for $60.5 million. Regarded as one of the greatest examples of still life painting by one of the best still life painters since the 17th century.

Study From Innocent X, by Francis Bacon. Sold for $52.6 million at Sotheby's New York, in 2007.

• In 2007, Sotheby's achieved the highest auction price ever achieved by a sculpture: the 5,000-year old Guennol Lioness, a 3-inch tall limestone lion from ancient Mesopotamia. This exquisite piece of Sumerian art sold for $57 million.

Sales of Irish Art

Sotheby's has been responsible for numerous record-breaking auction prices for works of Irish art, including:

Portrait of Gardenia St. George With Riding Crop. By Sir William Orpen. Sold by Sotheby's London in June 2001, for £1,983,500.

The Wild Ones. By Jack Butler Yeats.
£1,233,500 (Sotheby's London, May 1999)

Travelling Woman with Newspaper. By Louis le Brocquy.
£1,158,500 (Sotheby's London, May 18 2000)

King Lear weeping over the body of Cordelia. By James Barry.
£982,400 (Sotheby's London, May 2006)

Portrait of Mrs St. George. By Sir William Orpen.
£924,000 (Sotheby's London, May 16 2003)

Price-fixing Controversy

In recent years, Sotheby's has an intense rivalry with Christie's for the coveted position of the world's No 1 Fine Art Auctioneer. In February 2000, Sotheby's CEO Diana Brooks stepped down following an FBI investigation into allegations of price-fixing between the two auction houses. In October 2000, Brooks admitted guilt and implicated Taubman, the largest shareholder of Sotheby's at the time, who was himself charged with and later found guilty of conspiracy.


• For more details of fine art auctions, see: Homepage.

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