Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

Traditionally a loss-making period for the major auction houses, the first quarter also saw healthier net results, with a loss of only $3.9m compared to $9.7m for the first three months of 2005. The firm say the improved performance is largely the result of higher auction commission charges. Revenue from private sale commissions has also risen by half, and client loans have nearly doubled, bringing in an extra $2.2m.

However, costs have also risen, with Sotheby’s investing more in developing their Asian, Russian and Contemporary art markets and client services.

The auctioneers also note “unusually high costs for litigation accruals, client goodwill gestures and authenticity claims”.

Chief executive Bill Ruprecht said the best Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary art results in London’s history were the most important contributory factor to the growth, as well as historic highs for Old Master paintings and very successful Asian sales in New York.

Having just sold Picasso’s Dora Maar au Chat, for $85m hammer, and with strong picture sales racking up records in the past two weeks, he believes the second quarter results will be even better. The strengthening Hong Kong market, which registered $100m-plus sales in April, are also likely to reflect well in the company’s overall performance.

Among summer highlights in London is the Shakespeare First Folio – in its 17th century binding – estimated at $4m-6m.