Christie's is a British auction house founded in 1766 by James Christie. Its main premises are on King Street, St James's in London, and it has additional salerooms in New York, Paris, Hong Kong, Milan, Amsterdam, Geneva, Shanghai, and Dubai.[3] It is owned by Groupe Artémis, the holding company of François Pinault.[4][5] In 2022 Christie's sold $8.4 billion in art and luxury goods, an all-time high for any auction house.[6] In 2017, the Salvator Mundi was sold at Christie's in New York for $450 million, the highest price ever paid for a painting.[7]

Christie's
Company typeSubsidiary
IndustryArt, auctions
Founded1766; 258 years ago (1766)
FounderJames Christie
Headquarters
London
,
England
Area served
Worldwide
Key people
RevenueIncrease US$8.4 billion (2022)[2]
ParentGroupe Artémis
Websitechristies.com
Christie's American branch at Rockefeller Center in New York

History edit

 
In A Peep at Christies (1799), James Gillray caricatured actress Elizabeth Farren and huntsman Lord Derby examining paintings appropriate to their tastes and heights.

Founding edit

The official company literature states that founder James Christie (1730–1803) conducted the first sale in London on 5 December 1766,[8] and the earliest auction catalogue the company retains is from December 1766. However, other sources note that James Christie rented auction rooms from 1762, and newspaper advertisements for Christie's sales dating from 1759 have also been traced.[9] After his death, Christie's son, James Christie the Younger (1773–1831) took over the business.[10]

20th century edit

 
The Microcosm of London (1808), an engraving of Christie's auction room

Christie's was a public company, listed on the London Stock Exchange, from 1973 to 1999. In 1974, Jo Floyd was appointed chairman of Christie's. He served as chairman of Christie's International plc from 1976 to 1988, until handing over to Lord Carrington, and later was a non-executive director until 1992.[11] Christie's International Inc. held its first sale in the United States in 1977. Christie's growth was slow but steady since 1989, when it had 42% of the auction market.[12]

 
Clay tablet, a record of barley and emmer. Late Uruk period, 3300–3100 BCE. Purchased via Christie's in 1989, no provenance. British Museum

In 1990, the company reversed a long-standing policy and guaranteed a minimum price for a collection of artworks in its May auctions.[13] In 1996, sales exceeded those of Sotheby's for the first time since 1954.[14] However, profits did not grow at the same pace;[1] from 1993 through 1997, Christie's annual pretax profits were about $60 million, whereas Sotheby's annual pretax profits were about $265 million for those years.[15]

In 1993, Christie's paid $12.7 million for the London gallery Spink & Son, which specialised in Oriental art and British paintings; the gallery was run as a separate entity. The company bought Leger Gallery for $3.3 million in 1996, and merged it with Spink to become Spink-Leger.[16] Spink-Leger closed in 2002. To make itself competitive with Sotheby's in the property market, Christie's bought Great Estates in 1995, then the largest network of independent estate agents in North America, changing its name to Christie's Great Estates Inc.[12]

In December 1997, under the chairmanship of Lord Hindlip, Christie's put itself on the auction block, but after two months of negotiations with the consortium-led investment firm SBC Warburg Dillon Read it did not attract a bid high enough to accept.[15] In May 1998, François Pinault's holding company, Groupe Artémis S.A., first bought 29.1 percent of the company for $243.2 million, and subsequently purchased the rest of it in a deal that valued the entire company at $1.2 billion.[1] The company has since not been reporting profits, though it gives sale totals twice a year. Its policy, in line with UK accounting standards, is to convert non-UK results using an average exchange rate weighted daily by sales throughout the year.[17]

21st century edit

In 2002, Christie's France held its first auction in Paris.[18]

Like Sotheby's, Christie's became increasingly involved in high-profile private transactions. In 2006, Christie's offered a reported $21 million guarantee to the Donald Judd Foundation and displayed the artist's works for five weeks in an exhibition that later won an AICA award for "Best Installation in an Alternative Space".[19] In 2007 it brokered a $68 million deal that transferred Thomas Eakins's The Gross Clinic (1875) from the Jefferson Medical College at the Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia to joint ownership by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.[20] In the same year, the Haunch of Venison gallery[21] became a subsidiary of the company.[22]

On 28 December 2008, The Sunday Times reported that Pinault's debts left him "considering" the sale of Christie's and that a number of "private equity groups" were thought to be interested in its acquisition.[23] In January 2009, the company employed 2,100 people worldwide, though an unspecified number of staff and consultants were soon to be cut due to a worldwide downturn in the art market;[24] later news reports said that 300 jobs would be cut.[25] With sales for premier Impressionist, Modern, and contemporary artworks tallying only US$248.8 million in comparison to US$739 million just a year before, a second round of job cuts began after May 2009.[26]

In 2012, Impressionist works, which dominated the market during the 1980s boom, were replaced by contemporary art as Christie's top category. Asian art was the third most lucrative area.[17] With income from classic auctioneering falling, treaty sales made £413.4 million ($665 million) in the first half of 2012, an increase of 53% on the same period last year; they now represent more than 18% of turnover.[27] The company has since promoted curated events, centred on a theme rather than an art classification or time period.[28]

As part of a companywide review in 2017, Christie's announced the layoffs of 250 employees, or 12 percent of the total work force, based mainly in Britain and Europe.[29]

In June 2021, Christie's Paris held its first sale dedicated to women artists, most notably Louise Moillon's Nature morte aux raisins et pêches.[30]

In 2022 Christie's sold $8.4 billion in art and luxury goods, an all-time high for any auction house.[6]

Commissions edit

From 2008 until 2013, Christie's charged 25 percent for the first $50,000; 20 percent on the amount between $50,001 and $1 million, and 12 percent on the rest. From 2013, it charged 25 percent for the first $75,000; 20 percent on the next $75,001 to $1.5 million and 12 percent on the rest.[31]

As of 2023, Christie's commission (buyer's premium) is 26 percent of the hammer price of each lot up to £800,000/US$1,000,000, plus 21 percent of the hammer price from £800,001/US$1,000,001 up to and including £4,500,000/US$6,000,000, and 15 percent on the rest.[32]

Locations edit

As of 2023, Christie's has offices in 46 countries worldwide, with salerooms in London, New York, Paris, Geneva, Milan, Amsterdam, Dubai, Hong Kong, and Shanghai.[3]

Europe edit

Christie's flagship saleroom is in London on King Street in St. James's, where it has been based since 1823. It had a second London saleroom in South Kensington which opened in 1975 and primarily handled the middle market. Christie's permanently closed the South Kensington saleroom in July 2017 as part of their restructuring plans announced in March 2017. The closure was due in part to a considerable decrease in sales between 2015 and 2016 in addition to the company expanding its online sales presence.[33][34]

In early 2017, Christie's also announced plans to scale back its operation in Amsterdam.[29]

Americas edit

In 1977, the company opened its first international branch on Park Avenue in New York City in the Delmonico's Hotel grand ballroom on the second floor;[35][36] in 1997 it took a 30-year lease on a 28,000 m2 (300,000 sq ft) space in Rockefeller Center for $40 million.[37]

Until 2001, Christie's East, a division that sold lower-priced art and objects, was located at 219 East 67th Street. In 1996, Christie's bought a townhouse on East 59th Street in Manhattan as a separate gallery where experts could show clients art in complete privacy to conduct private treaty sales.[12]

Christie's opened a Beverly Hills saleroom in 1997.[38] In April 2017, in moved to a 4,500 sq ft (420 m2) two-story flagship space in Beverly Hills, designed by wHY.[39]

Asia edit

Christie's has been operating a space in Hong Kong's Alexandra House since 2014. In 2021, the company announced plans to move its Hong Kong headquarters to the Zaha Hadid-designed luxury tower The Henderson in 2024, where it will launch year-round auctions. Measuring more than 50,000 sq ft (4,600 m2) over four storeys, the new space, which incorporates a permanent saleroom and galleries, is comparable in size to Christie's London headquarters.[40]

Notable auctions edit

 
Pontormo, Portrait of a Halberdier, 1528–1530. Sold by Christie's for US$35.2 million in 1989. (J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles)

Criticism edit

Price-fixing scandal in 2000 edit

In 2000, allegations surfaced of a price-fixing arrangement between Christie's and Sotheby's. Executives from Christie's subsequently alerted the Department of Justice of their suspicions of commission-fixing collusion.

Christie's gained immunity from prosecution in the United States as a longtime employee of Christie's confessed and cooperated with the US Federal Bureau of Investigation. Numerous members of Sotheby's senior management were fired soon thereafter, and A. Alfred Taubman, the largest shareholder of Sotheby's at the time, took most of the blame; he and Dede Brooks (the CEO) were given jail sentences, and Christie's, Sotheby's and their owners also paid a civil lawsuit settlement of $512 million.[98][99][100]

Insufficient or invalid provenance for looted works edit

Christie's has been criticized for "an embarrassing history of a lack of transparency around provenance".[85] In 2003, Christie's was criticized for its handling of two Nazi-looted artworks claimed by heirs of the original Jewish owners. In one case, it refused to divulge to the heirs the location of an Italian painting formerly owned by Jewish Viennese banker Heinrich Graf, looted by the Gestapo.[101][102] Christie's eventually revealed the holder's name after the Jewish Community of Vienna filed a successful suit in the UK on behalf of Graf's American daughters in late 2004.[103] In the other 2003 case Christie's declined to inform the family that it had discovered that a painting consigned to it had been looted from Ulla and Moritz Rosenthal, a Jewish couple murdered in Auschwitz.[104][105]

In May 2020, Hobby Lobby sued the auction house for its sale of a Gilgamesh tablet, allegedly while knowing it had a fake provenance.[106] In June 2020, they were forced to withdraw four Greek and Roman antiquities from sale after it was discovered that they came from "sites linked to convicted antiquities traffickers".[85][107] The same month, they were criticized for putting up a Benin plaque and two Igbo alusi figures for auction.[108][109] The plaque was tied to similar plaques taken from Nigeria during the Benin Expedition of 1897 and remained unsold after an auction was held.[109] The alusi figures are alleged to have been taken from Nigeria during the Nigerian Civil War and were sold for €212,500 (after fees), below their low estimate of €250,000.[109][110] Christie's claims to require "verifiable documented provenance that the object was taken out of its source nation prior to the earlier date of 2000, or the date which is legally applicable between the country in which the sale takes place and the source nation".[109]

In November 2014, Christie's had to withdraw a prehistoric sculpture from Sardinia, valued at $800,000–$1.2m, put on auction by Michael Steinhardt, a US-billionaire, who was given a lifetime ban on acquiring further antiquities by the Manhattan district attorney's office in 2021.[111] After having acquired artworks with unverified provenance for years, for example by convicted art dealer Giacomo Medici, Steinhard's collection had been subjected to search warrants and investigations since 2017. He finally surrendered 180 looted and illegally smuggled antiquities valued at $70m. According to The Guardian, the district attorney said: "For decades, Michael Steinhardt displayed a rapacious appetite for plundered artefacts without concern for the legality of his actions, the legitimacy of the pieces he bought and sold or the grievous cultural damage he wrought across the globe.[112]

In February 2023 a French court ordered Christie's to unconditionally restitute Dutch painting The Penitent Magdalene, signed Adriaen van der Werff (1707), looted in 1942 from Lionel Hauser in Paris and last sold by the auction house without any provenance in London in April 2005.[113][114] Christie's had offered the Hauser heirs 50 percent of the sale price; the heirs refused the offer and took the case to court.[115][116]

Christie's Fine Art Storage Services (CFASS) edit

Christie's first ventured into storage services for outside clients in 1984, when it opened a 100,000 square feet brick warehouse in London that was granted "Exempted Status" by HM Revenue and Customs,[117] meaning that property may be imported into the United Kingdom and stored without incurring import duties and VAT. Christie's Fine Art Storage Services, or CFASS, is a wholly owned subsidiary that runs Christie's storage operation.

In September 2008, Christie's signed a 50-year lease on an early 1900s warehouse of the historic New York Dock Company[118] in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and subsequently spent $30 million converting it into a six-storey, 250,000 square feet[119] art-storage facility.[117] The facility opened in 2010 and features high-tech security and climate controls that maintain a virtually constant 70° and 50% relative humidity.[120]

Located near the Upper Bay tidal waterway near the Atlantic Ocean, the Brooklyn facility was hit by at least one storm surge during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. CFASS subsequently faced client defections and complaints arising from damage to works of art.[118] In 2013, AXA Art Insurance filed a lawsuit in New York court alleging that CFASS' "gross negligence" during the hurricane damaged art collected by late cellist Gregor Piatigorsky and his wife Jacqueline Rebecca Louise de Rothschild.[121] Later that year, StarNet Insurance Co., the insurer for the LeRoy Neiman Foundation and the artist's estate, also filed a lawsuit in New York Supreme Court claiming that the storage company's negligence caused more than $10 million in damages to Neiman's art.[122]

Educational and other ventures edit

Christie's Education previously offered master's degree programs in London and New York, but they were planned to be phased out in 2019. In 2020, in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, Christie's noted that there was a lack of racial diversity in the art world, and admitted that Christie's degree programs only exacerbated these inequities.[123]

However, Christie's continue to offer non-degree programmes in London, New York, Hong Kong and Amsterdam as well as online.[124] In addition they offer an Art Business Masterclass Certificate and the Luxury Masterclass Certificate.[125]

With Bonhams, Christie's is a shareholder in the London-based Art Loss Register, a privately owned database used by law enforcement services worldwide to trace and recover stolen art.[126]

Management edit

Since its acquisition by François Pinault, Christie's CEOs have been as follows:

References edit

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Bibliography edit

  • J. Herbert, Inside Christie's, London, 1990 (ISBN 978-0340430439)
  • P. A. Colson, The Story of Christie's, London, 1950
  • H. C. Marillier, Christie's, 1766–1925, London, 1926
  • M. A. Michael, A Brief History of Christie's Education... , London, 2008 (ISBN 978-0955780707)
  • W. Roberts, Memorials of Christie's, 2 vols, London, 1897
  • "Going Once." Phaidon Press, 2016. ISBN 978-0-7148-7202-5.

External links edit