Industry Art, auctions
Founded 1766
Headquarters London, United Kingdom
Area served
Key people
François-Henri Pinault
Patricia Barbizet
Products Painting, modern art, fine arts, pop art
Parent Groupe Artémis

Christie's, founded in 1766 by James Christie, is the world's leading art business, with sales in 2015 that totalled £4.8 billion / $7.4 billion.[1]

Christie's has its main headquarters in London on King Street and in New York City on Rockefeller Plaza.[2] It is owned by Groupe Artémis, the holding company of François-Henri Pinault.[3]



In A Peep at Christies (1796), James Gillray caricatured actress Elizabeth Farren and huntsman Lord Derby examining paintings appropriate to their tastes and heights.

The official company literature states that founder James Christie conducted the first sale in London, England, on 5 December 1766,[4] 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.[5]

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.


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 member of the board of directors until 1992.[6] 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.[7]

In 1990, the company reversed a longstanding policy and guaranteed a minimum price for a collection of artworks in its May auctions.[8] In 1996, the auction house's sales eclipsed Sotheby's for the first time since 1954.[9] However, its profits did not grow at the same pace;[10] 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.[11]

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.[12] 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.[7]

1998 takeover

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.[11] 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.[10] 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.[13] In 2002, Christie's France held its first auction in Paris.[14]

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".[15] 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.[16] 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,[17] became a subsidiary of Christie's International plc.[18]

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.[19] 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.[20] 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.[21] 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.[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, 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;[24] later news reports said that 300 jobs would be cut.[25] 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.[26] 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.[27] 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.[25]


Christie's Chinese preview exhibition

Frenchwoman Madame Patricia Barbizet was appointed Chief Executive Officer of Christie’s in 2014, the first female CEO of the company.[28] 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.[13]

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.[29] The company has promoted curated events, centred on a theme rather than an art classification or time period.[30]


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]


The Christie's secondary London salesroom in South Kensington.
20 Rockefeller Plaza, Manhattan

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.[32] (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.[7] Christie's opened a Beverly Hills salesroom in 1997.[33]

As of January 2009,[24] 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.

Price-fixing scandal

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.[34][35][36]

Notable auctions

Pontormo, Portrait of a Halberdier, 1528–1530. Sold by Christie's for US $35. 2 million in 1989. (J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles)

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,[63] 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[64] in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and subsequently spent $30 million converting it into a six-storey, 250,000 square feet[65] art-storage facility.[63] The facility opened in 2010 and features high-tech security and climate controls that maintain a virtually constant 70° and 50% relative humidity.[66] 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.[64] 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.[67] 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.[68]

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[69] 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[70] as well as the sale of Copper Beech Farm in Greenwich, Connecticut, for US$120 million.[71]

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.[72] 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 US. 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.[73]


  2. "Christie's locations".
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  5. Gazetteer and London Daily Advertiser (London, England), 25 September 1762; Issue 10460
  6. Sarah Lyall (27 February 1998), Jo Floyd, 74; Led Growth and Change at Christie's New York Times.
  7. 1 2 3 Carol Vogel (11 February 1997), At the Wire, Auction Fans, It's, It's . . . Christie's! New York Times.
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  10. 1 2 Carol Vogel (19 May 1998), Frenchman Seeks the Rest Of Christie's New York Times.
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  67. Laura Gilbert (August 20, 2013), Axa sues Christie's storage services over Sandy damage The Art Newspaper.
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  73. 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.


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