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Sotheby’s goes private

Billionaire businessman and art collector Patrick Drahi moved to take Sotheby’s into private ownership after 31 years as a public company via his company BidFair USA. The successful $3.7bn deal completed in September was hailed as a chance to “take the constraints off”.

One source told ATG at the time: “If you are the owner of a blue-chip artwork this could well be a great time to sell. Depending on what strategy Drahi follows, we may see a huge increase in competitiveness between Christie’s and Sotheby’s.”

By October he had appointed a new chief executive, Charles F Stewart, who took over from Tad Smith.

The deal’s completion meant that the two largest auction houses in the world are both owned by French billionaires – Christie’s was bought by François Pinault’s holding company Artemis in 1998.

Key fair developments

This was a key time for developments among major fairs. Several joined forces to run their separate events across just four days. They were the Firsts: London’s Rare Book Fair (ABA’s annual event rebranded), The London Map Fair, PBFA London Antiquarian Book Fair and Bloomsbury Summer Book Fair, organised by Etc Fairs.

With just weeks to go before the busy summer season, a new art fair was announced at the Saatchi Gallery. Fair for Saatchi (FFS) was the brainchild of Robert Sandelson. He acquired the British Art Fair last year and would go on to buy Draw Art Fair in September – all take place at the Chelsea institution. FFS joined Masterpiece, Art & Antiques Fair Olympia and London Art Week at the end of June. BADA opened a ‘pop-up shop’ on Pimlico Road to coincide.

In the regions, IACF added the Peterborough Festival of Antiques to its extensive portfolio, acquiring the biannual event from Bob Evans Fairs.

Caravaggio in the attic

The ‘Toulouse Caravaggio’ was discovered in a French attic by auctioneer Marc Labarbe in 2014. The depiction of Judith and Holofernes was given an estimate of €100m-150m (but no reserve), exhibited during a world tour and was the subject of a 170-page illustrated catalogue.

At the last minute, the art world lost the chance to see its performance on the open market. The painting was sold in a private sale two days before it was due to go under the hammer on June 25.

‘Botticelli’ bonanza

Spectators at an auction in Zürich were left flabbergasted when a Quattrocento panel painting with a SFr5000-7000 estimate catalogued as ‘in the style of Sandro Botticelli (c.1445-1510)’ was knocked down at SFr6.4m (£5.16m) after an intense 10-minute bidding battle.

The portrait of a young man, offered for sale at Schuler on June 28, had been in a Swiss private collection since 1924. A spokesman for the auction house told ATG: “Nobody could believe their eyes or ears at what was happening in the room.”

Multiple international bidders – several in the room and 13 on the phone – were prepared to overlook extensive overpaint and what had been a highly critical conservation report.

The final bid was placed by an international dealer and a round of applause greeted the fall of the gavel. With premium added, Schuler’s buyer paid a total of more than SFr7.5m.

Auction house closes

Wright Marshall of Cheshire and Derbyshire went into administration on June 26, the beginning of the end for the north-west firm.