Sotheby’s private sales approached $1 billion in 2019, the auction house reported Wednesday. That number represented a slight dip from 2018, when Sotheby’s private sales totaled just over $1 billion on the strength of a year-on-year increase of 37 percent. Nearly $500 million in profits came from about 30 private transactions in the price band between $5 million and $50 million, but the most value was derived from sales in the $1 million to $5 million price range, where most works are priced. And while around half of all transactions in 2019, both in terms of volume and value, were sales of contemporary art, a significant portion of private sales came from work priced under $300,000 in categories ranging from luxury objects to fine art.
Sotheby’s Worldwide Head of Private Sales David Schrader said in a statement that the “dealer versus auction house” dichotomy only offers a partial view of the current situation in the art market and that the auction house is investing heavily in its private sales business. This is especially relevant as blue-chip galleries have proven to be a strong competitor in the field of securing private estates, most notably with the recent consignment of Donald Marron’s collection to the mega-gallery triumvirate of Pace, Gagosian, and Acquavella, rather than one of the major auction houses.
Among last year’s private sales, Sotheby’s most-sold artists in terms of volume tended to be contemporary artists. First up was Jonas Wood, then Yayoi Kusama, George Condo, Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, KAWS, and Alexander Calder. The most-sold artists by value tended to be of an older cohort: Pablo Picasso led the pack, followed by Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, Mark Rohtko, Fernand Léger, Gerhard Richter, and Joan Mitchell.
The most-requested artists swung back toward contemporary. While Warhol maintained his historic hold on the most-requested slot, he was followed by Kusama, whose “Infinity Room” installations have helped turn her into a ubiquitous presence. Following her were KAWS, Basquiat, Calder, Picasso, Ed Ruscha, and Albert Oehlen.
While contemporary, Impressionist, and modern art still make up the bulk of Sotheby’s private sales, Old Master works and American art both had high-value transactions, as did jewelry, Islamic and Middle Eastern art, and books.