Press Release

Sotheby’s Adapts and Innovates in a Year of Unprecedented Change And Delivers Industry Leading Sales Totals

By Sotheby's
Strength in Asia, New Digital Tools, and Luxury Categories Drive Rapid Expansion of Client Base

With several auctions still to go before the close of 2020, Sotheby’s consolidated sales thus far this year now stand at over $5 billion. As a result of client focus, adaptation and innovation, Sotheby’s finishes 2020 as the industry leader in this transformative year.

“We are very grateful for the support of our clients and employees in navigating all the changes presented this year. The beauty and important role of art and rare objects seems particularly relevant in this period of pandemic and anxiety. In a matter of months, our global team united to implement a sweeping set of transformative changes to our business, many of which will continue long after the pandemic is behind us. As a result of these innovations and the unresting focus of our employees, we are pleased to end the year as global market leaders. That market leadership extends across a host of different categories across fine arts and luxury, and key regions across the globe including our fifth consecutive year of market leadership in Asia. Most importantly, we have invested in a series of enhancements to our customer experience and other growth initiatives to serve our customers better.We look forward to continuing to innovate and expanding our community in 2021, combining the best of this year’s advances with a welcome return to in-person experiences.”
Charles F. Stewart, Sotheby’s CEO

Innovation and Change in 2020

Adaptation to Digital-first Formats Brings New Participants
Ease of access to a broader range of offerings brings record influx of new buyers: this year Sotheby’s attracted the largest number of first-time buyers in 15 years with a 27% increase over 2019.

Digital tools enabled an exponentially higher audience reach: New digital catalogue format; Industry-leading social following of over 3.8m followers across social media channels; Reimagined digital-hybrid marquee live auctions

Over 70% of auctions were held online in 2020 (up from 30% last year) and new web and mobile experiences removed friction from registering and bidding, resulting in 80% of all bids placed online

Over 40% of bidders and buyers in online auctions are new to Sotheby’s, and number of buyers under the age of 40 doubled this year

Newly launched digital-first channels enabled new ways to engage with Sotheby’s, including the Sotheby’s Gallery Network and BuyNow marketplace at

Standout Year for Asia
Asian collectors have proven especially resilient in 2020, with strong results that cemented the company’s market leading position in Asia for the fifth consecutive year with auction sales alone of $932 million

Asian clients account for over 30% of Sotheby’s worldwide auction sales

Of the top 20 lots auctioned by Sotheby’s worldwide, Asian clients bid on 10 and bought 9.

Number of Asian clients bidding online is growing faster than anywhere else in the world, more than doubling in 2020

Please click here to view full round up of 2020 results in Asia

Collectors Adapt To the New Normal
Limitations on travel and in-person viewings in 2020 did not deter clients’ enthusiasm for bidding on works they were unable to view in person. Artworks by the following artists in Sotheby’s marquee auctions attracted bids over $1 million after remote viewing only: Vincent van Gogh, Jean-Michel Basquiat, René Magritte, Mark Rothko, Camille Pissarro, Claude Monet, Alexander Calder and Canaletto. Francis Bacon’s Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus received the highest value online bid ever recorded, with a $73.1 million underbid.

Servicing the unabated demand for Fine Art, Design and Luxury goods available for immediate purchase, Sotheby’s brought a curated cross-category selection closer to our clients with pop up galleries in East Hampton and Palm Beach.

Sotheby’s Emerges as a Market Leader

Industry-Leading Global Auction Sales of Over $3.5 billion (with online sales accounting for over $575 million)
Sotheby’s leads Asia for the fifth consecutive year in addition to leadership of North America and Europe

Sotheby’s sells most valuable works in Hong Kong, North America and Europe this year: Ren Renfa’s Five Drunken Princes Returning on Horseback, sold for $39.6 million; Francis Bacon, Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus, sold for $84.6 million, New York; David Hockney, The Splash, sold for $29.8 million

Record for an online auction total smashed twice in one year, with $13.7 million for the Contemporary Art Day Sale in May, and $30.5 million for the Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale in November

Record for any artwork sold online: Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled (Head) sold for $15.2 million in New York in June, ten times the highest price for a work bought in an online sale pre-Covid

Highest value bids placed through Sotheby’s mobile app: $12 million for Alberto Giacometti’s Femme Debout, sold in London in July, and mobile bids of over $5 million for Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait of the Artist, and over $3.5 million for Claude Monet’s Les Îles à Port-Villez and An Exquisite Fancy Pink Diamond and Diamond Ring

Record Year for Private Sales
Private Sales this year at Sotheby’s so far total over $1.5 billion, representing more than a 50% increase on 2019, and marking an all-time record any auction house.

New Luxury Formats Capture Growing Demand
Passion-based purchases during the pandemic, new sale formats and digital experiences including the launch of the BuyNow platform in the US, drive Sotheby’s worldwide Luxury sales in 2020. Buy Now meets the demand of our clients to buy and sell beyond the traditional auction calendar, offering a 24/7, 365 access to an exceptional property mix of over 3,000 items across fine jewels, contemporary art, collectible sneakers, watches, designer handbags, decorative objects, interiors and more.

Worldwide Luxury auction sales reach almost $640 million this year

Online luxury sales have quadrupled in volume (255 sales year-to-date) and their worldwide total ($177 million) has grown 600% compared to the same period last year

Sotheby’s emerges as market leader in Jewelry: $310.5 million. (Read full report here)

Records and firsts, including the most valuable jewel auctioned in 2020 and a record for a watch sold online

44% of bidders in luxury sales this year were new to Sotheby’s, up 13% the same period last year

Digital transformation spurs strong sales of wines and spirits, with Asia driving the market. (Read full report here)

*Luxury categories include: Jewellery, Watches, Wine & Spirits, Books & Manuscripts, 20th-Century Design, Handbags & Accessories Sneakers sales and unique themed auctions.

PRESS OFFICE CONTACTS | +44 (0)207 293 6000
Mitzi Mina |
Derek Parsons |

About Sotheby's

About Sotheby’s
Established in 1744, Sotheby’s is the world’s premier destination for art and luxury. Synonymous with innovation, Sotheby’s promotes access, connoisseurship and preservation of fine art and rare objects through auctions, private sales and retail locations. Our trusted global marketplace is supported by a network of specialists spanning 40 countries and 50 categories, which include Contemporary Art, Modern and Impressionist Art, Old Masters, Chinese Works of Art, Jewelry, Watches, Wine and Spirits, and Interiors, among many others.

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*Estimates do not include buyer’s premium. Prices achieved include the hammer price plus buyer’s premium and are net of any fees paid to the purchaser where the purchaser provided an irrevocable bid.

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