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Sotheby’s, founded in London in 1744 and headquartered in New York, is a company specializing in the sale of art objects that employs 1,550 people.
The story of Sotheby’s begins in London, on March 11, 1744. On that date, Samuel Baker organized an auction of the library of John Stanley. Initially the company organized books sales. In 1767, Baker partnered with George Leigh to bring a sense of theatricality to the auctions. At the death of Baker, in 1778, George Leigh took over the business with the founder’s nephew, John Sotheby. The succession continued in the family for eighty years. Samuel Leigh Sotheby’s son, John, was the last family member to head the company. In 1861, at his death, John Wilkinson led the company, and with one of its employees renamed the house Sotheby, Wilkinson and Hodge, a name the company kept until 1924. Initially specializing in book sales, the company diversified its activities with the sale of paintings, other works of art and unusual jewelry. Unique and unforgettable sales have marked the history of Sotheby’s, including sales of Napoleon’s library, the jewels of the Duchess of Windsor and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, as well as unique art such as Aristotle with a Bust of Homer by Rembrandt, The Boy in the pipe Picasso, and a collection of papers of Martin Luther King Jr. After the Second World War, under the leadership of Peter Wilson, the company went global. Wilson, who had joined the company in 1936, oversaw the move to the New York office facility in 1955. He also initiated establishment of offices in Hong Kong in 1973, and in Monte Carlo, Amsterdam, Munich, Madrid, Melbourne, Paris and Geneva. He was head of the company until 1980. His successors continued the development of the company with new offices in India, finally, in 2012, in China.
Sotheby’s is a global company specializing in art. It is organized into three departments: The agency Sotheby’s, the main house and the finance department. The company generates commissions by connecting buyers and sellers through auctions or private sales. The house is also the recipient of artworks and organizes sales for its own account. Finally, the finance department of Sotheby’s makes loans to collectors and earns interest. Today, the company is present in 40 countries and has 90 offices. The auction sites are located on all continents, including Beijing and Hong Kong in Asia, London, Geneva, Milan, Paris and Zurich in Europe, Doha in the Middle East, and New York. The house hosts an average of 250 sales per year in 70 categories. It has also put in place tools that enable customers to track sales from a distance. So, with BidNow, different customers around the world can see, participate and bid live during all sales, whether in London, New York or Hong Kong.
At December 31, 2014, Sotheby’s had 1550 employees, including 606 in the Americas, 502 in the UK, 230 on the European continent and 212 in Asia.
In 2014, the company achieved revenues of 938 million, representing an increase of 10 percent over 2013.
The Paris office of Sotheby’s was established in 1967. In 1988, the office moved to the Galerie Charpentier, facing the Elysée Palace, in the Faubourg Saint-Honoré. Historically, this choice is not trivial. Indeed, it is within these walls numerous artistic events were held in Paris in the 1930s.
Sotheby’s was number one in France in 2014 for sales of Impressionist, modern and contemporary art.
The house has established a magazine for collectors: Sotheby’s at Auction. Eight issues are published every year, and each publication features sales worldwide, but also looks closely at artists and artistic world news.
The main competitor of Sotheby’s is Christie’s. In November 2014, when the chief executive of Sotheby’s director, Bill Ruprecht, announced his departure, the rival company issued a press release stating that its director, Steven P. Murphy, would also leave the leadership after four years of service. Sotheby’s responsibilities are now shared by the chairman, Domenico De Sole, former director of Gucci Group, and CEO, Tad Smith, in office since March 2015.