Christie’s headquarters, 8 King Street, London
Christie’s is an art business and a fine arts auction house, currently the world’s largest, with sales for the first half of 2012, some $3.5 billion, representing the highest total for a corresponding period in company and art market history.
Christie’s has its main headquarters in London on King Street and Rockefeller Plaza in New York. It is owned by Groupe Artémis, the holding company of François-Henri Pinault.
Christie’s is stepping into the Chinese market
The official company literature states that founder James Christie conducted the first sale in London, England, on 5 December 1766, 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 of Christie’s sales dating from 1759 have also been traced. Christie’s soon established a reputation as a leading auction house, and took advantage of London’s new found status as the major centre of the international art trade after the French Revolution. From 1859, the company was called Christie, Manson & Woods. In 1958, it established its first overseas office, by placing a representative in Rome. The first overseas salesroom opened in Geneva, where Christie’s holds jewellery auctions.
In A Peep at Christies (1796), James Gillray caricatured actress Elizabeth Farrenand huntsman Lord Derby examining paintings appropriate to their tastes and heights.
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 P.L.C. from 1976 to 1988, until handing over to Lord Carrington, and later was a non-executive member of the board of directors until 1992. The auction house’s subsidiary Christie’s International Inc. held its first sale in the United States in 1977, 13 years later than Sotheby’s. Christie’s growth was slow but steady since 1989, when it had 42 percent of the auction market. In 1990, the company reversed a longstanding policy and guaranteed a minimum price for a collection of artworks in its May auctions. In 1996, the auction house’s sales eclipsed Sotheby’s for the first time since 1954. However, its profits did not grow at the same pace; 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.
NewYork Christie’s American branch in Rockefeller Center, New York
In 1993, Christie’s paid $10.9 million for the London gallery Spink & Sons, which specialised in Oriental art and British paintings; the gallery was run as a separate entity from the auction house. The company bought Leger Gallery for $3.3 million in 1996, and merged it with Spink to become Spink-Leger. Spink-Leger was closed in 2002. To make itself competitive with Sotheby’s in real estate, Christie’s bought Great Estates in 1995, then the largest network of independent real estate brokers in North America, changing its name to Christie’s Great Estates Inc.
In December 1997, Christie’s put itself on the auction block, but after two months of negotiations with a consortium led investment firm SBC Warburg Dillon Read, it did not attract a bid high enough to accept. 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. The company has since not been reporting profits, though it gives sale totals twice a year. Its policy, in line with U.K. accounting standards, is to convert non-U.K. results using an average exchange rate weighted daily by sales throughout the year. In 2002, Christie’s France held its first auction in Paris.
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”. In 2007 the auction house 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. That same year, Haunch of Venison, a contemporary art gallery which since 2002 had successfully conducted back-room sales of secondary-market works by major artists such as Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol, and Damien Hirst from its locations in London and Zürich, became a subsidiary of Christie’s International plc. Under the original deal, the gallery was meant to be the channel for all of Christie’s private-client business as well as the focus of its primary trade. Also, the auction house originally announced that Haunch employees could not bid at auction because of conflicts of interest or issues of market manipulation, but later abandoned this rule. While Christie’s eventually retained the brand name and repositioned Haunch as purely a primary-focused gallery, any secondary-market activities were taken over by the auction house’s post-war and contemporary department. Today, the gallery continues to operate as an independent company in London and New York, and again handles all of its secondary market activities itself.
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. In January 2009, Christie’s was reported to employ 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; later news reports said that 300 jobs would be cut. With sales for premier Impressionist, Modern, and contemporary artworks tallying only $US248.8 million in comparison to $US739 million just a year before, a second round of job cuts began after May 2009 when the auction house was still reported to employ 1,900 people worldwide. One of the auction house’s “rainmakers” in the sale of Impressionist and Modern art, Guy Bennett, resigned from the auction house just prior to the beginning of the summer 2009 sales season. Although the economic downturn has encouraged some collectors to sell art, others are unwilling to sell in a market which may yield only bargain prices.
In September 2010, former Rodale president Steven Pleshette Murphy became the first American CEO in the history of the auction house. Shortly after, the Financial Times reported that Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani was interested in acquiring the company. As of 2012, Impressionist works, which dominated the market during the 1980s boom, have been replaced by contemporary art as Christie’s top category. Asian art was the third most-lucrative area. 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.
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.
The Christie’s secondary London salesroom in South Kensington.
Christie’s main London salesroom is on King Street in St. James’s, where it has been based since 1823. It has a second London salesroom in South Kensington which opened in 1975 and primarily handles the middle market. Christie’s South Kensington is one of the world’s busiest auction rooms.
• In May 1989, Pontormo’s Portrait of a Halberdier was sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum for $35.2 million, more than tripling the previous auction record for an Old Master painting.
• In 1998, Christie’s in New York sold the famous Archimedes Palimpsest after the conclusion of a lawsuit in which its ownership was disputed.
• In November 1999, a single strand necklace of 41 natural and graduated pearls, which belonged to Barbara Hutton, was auctioned by Christie’s Geneva for $1,476,000.
• In June 2001, Elton John sold 20 of his cars at Christie’s, saying he didn’t get the chance to drive them because he was out of the country so often. The sale, which included a 1993 Jaguar XJ220, the most expensive at £234,750, and several Ferraris, Rolls-Royces, and Bentleys, raised nearly £2 million.
• In 2006, a single Imperial Qing Dynasty porcelain bowl, another item which belonged to Barbara Hutton, was auctioned by Christie’s Hong Kong for a price of $22,240,000.
• 16 May 2006, Christie’s auctioned a Stradivarius called The Hammer for a record US$3,544,000. It was, at that time, the most paid at public auction for any musical instrument.
• In October 2006, Christie’s auctioned 1,000 lots of official Star Trek contents from the CBS Paramount Television studios. A model of the starship Enterprise-D, used in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek Generations sold for $500,000.
• In November 2006, four celebrated paintings by Gustav Klimt were sold for a total of $192 million, after being restituted by Austria to Jewish heirs after a lengthy legal battle.
• In December 2006, The black dress worn by Audrey Hepburn in the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s was sold for £467,200 at Christie’s South Kensington.
• In 2006 Christie’s lists for auction artefacts known to be looted from Bulgaria and refuses to stop the sale despite strong evidence from the Bulgaria’s culture ministry.
• Continuing to dominate the global market for fine arts, Christie’s staged the five largest auctions of all time in November 2006, and May and June 2007.
• In May 2007, Christie’s Paris auctioned ‘L’Enfant et l’Art,’ a Love & Art Children’s Foundation collection created by children afflicted with cancer under the guidance of artist Alécia de Menezes Seidler. The art collection of 21 paintings auctioned by François Curiel, President of Christie’s Europe, raised US$350,000 for the children of Les P’tits Cracks, a Parisian association dedicated to caring for children with cancer. Prior to the auction, the L’Enfant et l’Art collection exhibited at Les Arts Décoratifs in the Louvre Palace.
• In November 2007, an album of eight leaves, ink on paper, by China’s Ming Dynasty court painter Dong Qichang was sold at the Christie’s Hong Kong Chinese Paintings Auction for US$6,235,500, a world auction record for the artist.
• In 2008, the Ink and wash painting of Gundam drawn by Hisashi in 2005 was sold in the Christie’s auction held in Hong Kong with a price of US$600,000.
• On 24 May 2008, Le Bassin Aux Nymphéas by Claude Monet was sold for a price of $80.4 million, the highest price ever for a Monet.
• Over a three-day sale in Paris in February 2009, Christie’s auctioned the monumental private collection of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé for a record-breaking 370 million euros (US$490 million). It was the most expensive private collection ever sold at auction, breaking auction records for Brâncuși, Matisse, and Mondrian. A “Dragons'” armchair by Irish furniture designer Eileen Gray sold for 21.9 million euros (US$28 million), setting an auction record for a piece of 20th century decorative art.
• The 2009 auction (for US$36 million) of two imperial bronze zodiac sculptures collected by Yves Saint Laurent, looted in 1860 from the Old Summer Palace of Beijing by French and British forces at the close of the Second Opium War caused controversy.
• Christie’s has auctioned artwork and personal possessions linked to historical figures such as Pablo Picasso; Rembrandt; Diana, Princess of Wales; Leonardo da Vinci; Vincent van Gogh; Napoleon Bonaparte; Marilyn Monroe; and others.
• Christie’s Hong Kong, November 2009 sale of Fine Modern Chinese Paintings, sold a work by Fu Baoshi titled “Landscape inspired by Dufu’s Poetic Sentiments”, for HK$60,020,000 (US$7,780,105) – a world record for the artist.
• Christie’s auctioned Pablo Picasso’s Nude, Green Leaves and Bust on 4 May 2010. The piece sold for US$106.5 million, making the sale among the most expensive paintings ever sold.
• On 14 June 2010 Amedeo Modigliani’s Tête, a limestone sculpture of a woman’s head, became the second most expensive sculpture ever sold and the most expensive work of art sold in France.
• On 18 April 2012, the silver cup given to the marathon winner, Greek athlete Spyridon Louis, at the first modern Olympic Games staged in Athens in 1896 sold for UK£541,250 (US$860,000), breaking the auction record for Olympic memorabilia.
. May 26, 2012 Sanyu Blue Chrysanthemums in a Glass Vase sold for $6.1 million Christie’s Hong Kong
• On 22 June 2012 George Washington‘s personal annotated copy of the “Acts Passed at a Congress of the United States of America” from 1789, which includes The Constitution of the United States and a draft of the Bill of Rights, was sold at Christie’s for a record $9,826,500, with fees the final cost, to The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. This was the record for a document sold at auction.
• On 12 November 2013, Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud sold for US$142.4 million (including the buyer’s premium) to an unnamed buyer, nominally becoming the most expensive work of art ever to be sold at auction.
Christie’s Fine Art Storage Services (CFASS)
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, 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 in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and subsequently spent $30 million converting it into a six-storey, 250,000 square feet art-storage facility. The facility opened in 2010 and features high-tech security and climate controls that maintain a virtually constant 70° and 50% relative humidity. Since 2009, Christie’s has been the main tenant of the Singapore FreePort, taking up 40 per cent of the space to offer its fine art storage services to its global clients.
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. 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.
Christie’s International Real Estate
Christie’s clients who buy and sell works of art often request real estate services. To satisfy this demand, Great Estates, founded in 1987, was acquired by the auction house in 1995. Christie’s International Real Estate is a wholly owned subsidiary of Christie’s, and is the leading international network of real estate brokers dedicated to the marketing and sale of luxury properties.
The network spans more than 40 countries worldwide, with 1,000 offices and approximately 34,000 sales associates Christie’s International Real Estate have been involved with some of the world’s most high profile residential property transactions including a New York Penthouse on Central Park West for a reported $88,000,000 as well as being linked with the sale of the Bulgari residences in London’s exclusive area of Knightsbridge.
Christie’s Education graduate programmes
The educational arm of Christie’s auction house is called Christie’s Education. It offers graduate programs in London, its headquarters, and non degree programs in London, Paris, New York and Melbourne. It has colleges in London and New York accredited by the University of Glasgow in the UK and the New York State Board of Regents in the USA. It offers Master’s Degrees, Graduate Diplomas, Art Business Certificates and an Undergraduate Degree. Courses include: Arts of China; Arts of Europe; Art, Style and Design; Modern and Contemporary Art (all in London) and History of Art and the Art Market (in New York). Evening programmes in Art Business and part-time certificates in continuing education are also offered in London and New York.
Christie’s Images is the picture library for the auction house and has an archive of several million fine and decorative art images representing items sold in its sale rooms around the world. With offices in New York and London, images are available for reproduction.
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.