Country for PR: United Kingdom
Contributor: PR Newswire Europe
Wednesday, December 09 2020 - 00:00
Artprice: Sotheby's has its largest lead over Christie's in 15 years
PARIS, December 8, 2020, /PRNewswire-AsiaNet/--

The world's two leading auction houses have historically moved neck and neck, 
but online sales have allowed Sotheby's to gain a substantial advance over its 
rival. For the first 11 months of 2020, Sotheby's, now headed by Patrick Drahi, 
has a turnover lead of +40%. Such a wide gap hasn't been seen since 2004. 

Global turnover from fine art - Sotheby's vs. Christie's 
1 January 2000 - 30 November 2020

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"The global supremacy of Sotheby's and Christie's on the international art 
market should not make us forget that the two houses only handle 6% of the fine 
art lots offered at auction," recalls thierry Ehrmann, President and Founder of and its Artprice department. "The two houses have however 
acquired a virtual monopoly on results above $20 million in the West. Their 
rivalry is historic and has been reflected in the closely correlated 
development of their respective revenues over the past 30 years."

A correlation that raised eyebrows...

The year 2000 was marked by the end of an 'agreement' between the two 
companies, accused by their customers of having engaged in "unfair commercial 
practices" by illicitly harmonising their buyers' fees. They both agreed to pay 
$256 million each to avoid a damaging trial and Sotheby's separated from its 
CEO at the time, Alfred Taubman. 

Despite this 'agreement not to agree', the operating incomes of the two 
companies continued to progress along very similar curves – although completely 
independently due to the 'warning' in 2000 – for another three years.

Sotheby's turnover rose 56% in 2004 

Sotheby's 2004 turnover was not only boosted by fetching the very first fine 
art result above the $100 million threshold (for Pablo Picasso's Garçon à la 
pipe (1905)), but also by hammering 9 of the 10 best fine art results of the 
year. This resulted in a global turnover figure 1.5 times higher than 
Christie's, despite a slightly lower number of sales.

Sotheby's in 2004: $1.86 billion with 19,950 fine art lots sold in 11 countries 
Christie's in 2004: $ 1.19 billion with 21,570 fine art lots sold in 9 countries
Christie's regained the lead for six years...

Between 2013 and 2018 François Pinault's firm managed to beat Sotheby's annual 
total  for six consecutive years. Sotheby's reacted with a series of strategic 
shifts including stepping up its price guarantee policy and dropping buyer fees 
on online sales. However, the NYSE-listed company seemed to be gradually 
falling behind. 

Then, as rumours circulated about a possible takeover by the Chinese insurer 
Taikang (its largest shareholder and owner of Poly Auction), Sotheby's was 
acquired by Patrick Drahi, a Franco-Israeli telecoms tycoon. The Covid-19 
pandemic was bad news for business for everyone, but Sotheby's was the quickest 
to react by intensifying its Online Only sales and by setting up exceptional 
closed-door sessions. 

The editorial in Le Monde of Friday 4 December 2020 summed it up perfectly: 
"Like a time-machine, the health crisis seems resembles a medieval phenomenon, 
but in many respects it has projected us into the future. Expert predictions 
about the development of a 'dematerialized society' [...] often gave 2025 as 
their horizon, but a lot of these predictions have come to pass in less than a 


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