Sotheby’s Reports Record First Half of 2011


Sotheby’s has just reported a record $3.4 billion in sales for the first half of 2011, up from $2.2 billion for the same period last year. (Christie’s reported total sales of $3.2 billion.) This figure reflects the value of works (plus buyers’ premiums) moved by Sotheby’s, not actual revenue.

Factoring in salaries, compensation, consulting fees, taxes and other expenses, Sotheby’s actual profit so far this year is $129.7 million. Much of that is attributable to the best second quarter results in the company’s history, which realized $127.2 million, a 48-percent increase over the second quarter of 2010, which saw $86.2 million.

The auction house reported a 28-percent increase in net income over the same period last year, from $383.3 to $489.4 million, $464 million of which is auction revenue. The rest comes from such sources as licensing, finance and dealer revenue.

In press material, Bill Ruprecht, president and CEO, cited large sales increases in China and a 114-percent increase in private sales as major contributors to the overall results. The report notes a decrease in commission fees due to competition to win top consignments.

Among the best performing auctions was the May 9 sale in New York of works from the collection of the late dealer Allan Stone, which at $54.8 million exceeded its presale estimate of $46.8 million.

The May 10 contemporary auction included star lots by Warhol, whose Sixteen Jackies (1964) sold for $20.2 million, near its low estimate; and Shadow (Red), of 1978, for $4.8 million, well above its high estimate of $900,000. Jeff Koons’s Pink Panther (1988), however, was expected to bring $20-30 million but fell short, selling for $16.9 million.

In London, the June 29–30 contemporary sales set a record for the highest total there, bringing $206 million (est. $123.8 million). The big seller was Francis Bacon’s Crouching Nude (1961), which went for $13.3 million, within its presale estimate of $11.5–14.8 million.

The June 15–16 sale in London of the Evill/Frost Collection of 20th-century British art realized $69.3 million. With every lot sold, the total surpassed the high estimate of $32 million. The top lot was Stanley Spencer’s Sunflower and Dog Worship (1937), which went for $8.9 million, a new auction record for the artist. Lucian Freud’s 1945 drawing Beach Scene with a Boat brought $4.3 million, an astonishing price given its $600,000 estimate.

Record totals were also reported in Hong Kong, which saw a 75-percent increase over last year with a total of $447 million. The Apr. 3 sale of 105 works from the Ullens Collection set a record for a single-owner sale in the category of contemporary Chinese art, fetching $54.8 million, well above its $16.7 million estimate, with 100 percent of lots sold.

The financial good news was offset, however, by a picket line outside the auction house. As reported by, 43 art handlers have been protesting since Friday, when they were locked out by Sotheby’s over a contract dispute. Their contracts expired in early July. Sotheby’s has brought in non-union workers to help prepare for its September sales. Among the points of contention: the union workers are opposed to eliminating certain senior positions like general and deputy foremen, replacing 12 senior union workers with non-union workers, and a shortened work week.

From the Stone sale: Willem de Kooning, Event in a Barn, 1947. Oil, enamel and paper collage on board. $5,000,000–$7,000,000. Sold: $4,800,000.