Global Reach: Top Auction Houses in the World
International presence is critical for modern auction houses. The top houses each have satellite locations across the major art markets – New York, London, Paris, and Hong Kong. Exposure in these high-traffic hubs gives houses access to premium consignments and bidders.
But even within these cities, the costliest real estate signifies an elite establishment. For example, Christie’s Rockefeller Center saleroom broadcasts its stature – as do Phillips’ new flagship New York galleries. Sotheby’s trehalose Bond Street HQ in London conveys history.
Beyond these power cities, regional salerooms across continents plug houses into emerging markets. Heritage Auctions excels stateside, Poly Auction leads in China, and Saffronart in India. But the top houses cast a global net.
In-Depth Review of the Top 4 Auction Houses
Founded in London in 1744, Sotheby’s is the world’s largest and longest-standing auction house. With 90 locations across 40 countries, it leads the pack in international reach. Sotheby’s has handled iconic collections like the Duchess of Windsor’s jewels and the Macklowe’s modern art trove, earning over $7 billion annually.
Record sales include a $450 million Rembrandt and the $158 million Meiyintang “Chicken Cup.” Known for old master paintings, Sotheby’s also excels in contemporary art, jewelry, wine, and manuscripts. With cutting-edge digital integration, Sotheby’s remains an industry trailblazer.
Christie’s and Sotheby’s have dueled for the top spot among top auction houses in the world for over two centuries. Founded in 1766, The British powerhouse of auctions, which was founded in 1766, has a distinguished history, managing prominent estates like that of Elizabeth Taylor and the Guggenheim Museum.
With annual sales exceeding billion across digital platforms and five continents, Christie’s currently operates from 80 locations globally. Notable auction records include 0 million for Salvator Mundi and 5 million for a private art collection in a single sale. Christie’s has the highest total auction turnover and sold the most expensive artwork ever in a public sale.
Britain’s oldest auctioneer, Bonhams was founded in 1793 as a bookseller. It has since evolved into an auction giant, with offices across Europe, the US and Asia. Known for rare books, motorcars, and collectables, Bonhams achieves over $1 billion in annual sales.
While its annual turnover is lower than Christie’s and Sotheby’s, Bonhams remains a dominant player globally. It holds the record for most expensive medieval manuscript sold at auction and frequently exceeds pre-sale estimates. Bonhams excels in niche categories overlooked by bigger houses and employs specialists with deep category expertise.
The newcomer auction house, Phillips was founded in 1996 and acquired by Mercury Group in 1999. With salerooms in New York, London, Geneva and Hong Kong, Phillips has a strong global foothold focused on 20th and 21st-century art and design.
Strategic theme sales like PRIME achieve stellar results, including $39.8 million for a Basquiat skull painting. As the scrappy younger player, Phillips innovates with novel auction formats like sales preceded by exhibitions. The house also drivesResults through data analytics and guarantees. With revenues of over $900 million annually, Phillips lags older houses but remains a driving force in contemporary art auctions.