Among the highlights of the year at Sotheby’s was the sale of Sandro Botticelli’s Young Man Holding a Roundel. It sold at $80m in January, the highest price ever achieved for an Old Master at Sotheby’s.

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Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips all credited the growth of private sales, online auctions, new selling categories and the continued rise of Asian buyers as drivers for the strong performance.

Sotheby’s reported total sales (including fees) for the year at $7.3bn (£5.5bn) – the largest in the company’s 277- year history and a 46% jump on last year ($5bn). It was achieved by auction sales of around $6bn, with 12 different categories notching up sales of works at more than $10m.

Christie’s said its total sales (including fees) of $7.1bn (£5.2bn) was a five-year high for the firm and a jump of 54% on 2020 and up 22% on 2019. Auction sales were $5.4bn.

Phillips, which focuses on 20th and 21st-century art and design, watches and jewellery, reported total sales of $1.2bn (£900m) for 2021 – the first time it had exceeded $1bn. Auction sales reached $993.3m.

New milestones

Stephen Brooks, Phillips chief executive officer, said, “[We passed] $1bn in sales, while achieving a sell-through rate of 91%. Across the board, our six auction categories achieved new milestones, with private sales also firmly outpacing pre-pandemic levels [up 21% on 2019 to $208.2m].”

Private sales for all firms continued to grow (Christie’s noted it as a record year, reaching $1.7bn, which is up 12% on 2020 and up 108% on 2019) whi l e auct ion consignments, although slow to emerge in 2020, picked up into 2021.

Jussi Pylkannen, global president at Christie’s, said: “Owners are feeling confident and we believe this could lead to significant consignments next year. There are signs that major collectors will sell.”

Asia importance

All three auction houses continue to focus on the importance of Asia.

As well as growing their physical presences in China and Hong Kong, the auction houses also noted that Asian buyers were bidding in the US and Europe, as well as at home.

Sotheby’s had a record year in Asia and said Asian collectors remain a strong force across all locations and categories, accounting for one third of all bids by value in Sotheby’s worldwide sales, with Asian buyers bidding or buying on 46% of lots over $5m.

Christie’s is opening new salerooms and offices in Hong Kong and Beijing in the next two years. Asian buyers contributed a total of $1.68bn of sales in 2021 which is up 32% on 2019.

Phillips said sales in Asia doubled on the previous year to hit $270m. It announced plans for a new head office and saleroom in Asia in the West Kowloon Cultural District in Hong Kong which will open in the autumn of 2022.

Online increase

Sotheby’s said expansion of its web and mobile platforms and the shift to the livestream auction format increased the number of bidders at auction in the past year: since January 2021, 39% of buyers and 44% of bidders have been new.

More than 16.6m livestream views of its sales were recorded this year while online-only sales reached a record $800m.

Nearly half of all of Christie’s auctions now take place online-only – the source of many new clients. However, the firm is keen to stress that the saleroom is still its heartland.

CEO Guillaume Cerutti said: “We want people in the room as that is where the excitement happens. Like when the Caillebotte sold to Getty in New York or in London with the Da Vinci bear – both bought by bidders in person.

“Those moments cannot be replicated online or on the phone. We are still in this phase with the hybrid formats which are currently the best option but we will continue to improve. We have to make our auctions exciting.”

Phillips’ online-only sale total has increased by 417% since 2019 and by 68% from 2020.

Fresh categories

It is the newer collecting categories – watches, luxury accessories, collectables and NFTs (non fungible tokens) – that are bringing the firms to the attention of a younger audience.

Christie’s said it sold more than 100 NFTs in 2021, totalling nearly $150m, while Sotheby’s launched Sotheby’s Metaverse, a dedicated NFT marketplace.

It said 78% of NFT bidders were new to Sotheby’s and more than half of them under the age of 40.


Total sales

Sotheby’s: $7.3bn (£5.5bn) Christie’s: $7.1bn (£5.2bn)

Phillips: $1.2bn (£900m)

Auction sales

Sotheby’s: $6bn

Christie’s: $5.4bn

Phillips: $993.3m

Private sales

Christie’s: $1.7bn

Sotheby’s: $1.3bn

Phillips: $208.2m