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.
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.
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.
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, 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. 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.
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 1977, Christie's opened a branch on New York's Park Avenue, with a salesroom accommodating about 600 people. Increasingly cramped for space, the auction house signed a 30-year lease in 1997 for a 300,000-square-foot space in Rockefeller Center for $40 million. (The Christie's New York sign was created by Nancy Meyers during the production of the 2003 film Something's Gotta Give for an exterior shot; the auction house liked the sign so much that it requested the production leave it after shooting finished.) 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 town house on East 59th Street in Manhattan as a separate gallery where experts could show clients art in complete privacy to conduct private treaty sales. Christie's opened a Beverly Hills salesroom in 1997.
As of January 2009, Christie's had 85 offices (not all are salesrooms) in 43 countries, including New York City, Los Angeles, Paris, Geneva, Houston, Amsterdam, Moscow, Vienna, Buenos Aires, Berlin, Rome, South Korea, Milan, Madrid, Japan, China, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok, Tel Aviv, Dubai, and Mexico City. In 1995, Christie's became the first international auction house to exhibit works of art in Beijing, China.
In 2000, allegations surfaced of a price-fixing arrangement between Christie's and Sotheby's, another major auction house. 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 U.S. 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.
Pontormo, Portrait of a Halberdier, 1528–1530. Sold by Christie's for US $35. 2 million in 1989. (J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles)
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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 9,500 offices and approximately 27,500 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 US$88 million as well as the sale of Copper Beech Farm in Greenwich, Connecticut, for US$120 million.
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 nondegree 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.
^The Art Loss Register, Ltd.: "The Art Loss Register is the world's largest database of stolen art and antiques dedicated to their recovery. Its shareholders include Christie's, Bonhams, members of the insurance industry and art trade associations. " Retrieved 27 September 2008.