Jul 31
News
Sotheby’s sales dropped 10 percent in the first half of 2019.
Sotheby’s sale of Impressionist and modern art in New York on May 14, 2019. Courtesy Sotheby’s.

Sotheby’s sale of Impressionist and modern art in New York on May 14, 2019. Courtesy Sotheby’s.

Sotheby’s sales dropped 10 percent in the first half of 2019 compared to the same period in 2018. In its earnings report for the second quarter and first half of 2019, the auction house said it sold $3.1 billion worth of art, down from $3.5 billion in the same period last year. Auction sales were down 8.7 percent, totaling $2.6 billion, while private sales dipped 6 percent, totaling $511 million in the first half of 2019.

The first six months of the year were an eventful season for the auction house. It included the sale of the single biggest lot of the spring auction season—Claude Monet’s haystack painting Meules (1890/91) for $110.7 million—and the announcement in June that it would be acquired by telecom billionaire Patrick Drahi for $3.7 billion.

That sale, which is expected to be finalized by the end of 2019—assuming no rival bidders come forward and shareholders’ lawsuits are resolved—will see Sotheby’s go private again after 31 years as a publicly traded company. In a statement to the press, CEO Tad Smith said: “The proposed acquisition of our company is on track, and we remain focused on serving our global clients.”

The Sotheby’s earnings report, taken in tandem with Christie’s report for the first half of 2019, paints a picture of a general market slowdown. Last week, Christie’s reported auction sales of art totaling $2.8 billion in the first half of the year, an even more significant drop—about $800 million, or 22 percent—than arch rival Sotheby’s when compared to the same period last year. That drop may in part be explained by the exceptional performance of the Rockefeller Collection, which set a new record for the sale of an estate at auction when Christie’s sold it last year.

Further Reading: Sotheby’s Going Private Will Change the Art Market Forever