275 Years of Success: 10 Historic Moments in the Life of Sotheby's

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Launch Slideshow

Marking to the day the 275th anniversary of Sotheby’s first auction, an exhibition of visual highlights from our illustrious history opens in London on 11th March 2019. It explores the characters, both well known and behind the scenes, who have grown the company from its modest origins. Combining recently unearthed archival images and footage of past triumphs with artefacts from recent record-breaking sales, 275 Years in Pictures celebrates the spirit of innovation that continues to propel Sotheby’s forward. Click the image above to view the slideshow.

275 Years of Success: 10 Historic Moments in the Life of Sotheby's

  • 1928: Alice in wonderland, The Illustrated London News
    The front page of the Illustrated London News from 1928, recounting the recent sale for £15,400 of the original manuscript for Alice in Wonderland as attended by Alice Liddell, the work's namesake inspiration.
  • 1933: The Art of Bidding' cartoon, Punch magazine
    For those wary of the semaphore of the saleroom, gestures of which are sketched out in this 1933 cartoon from Punch magazine, Sotheby's has since 2010 offered a mobile bidding app as a modern alternative.
  • Studio A
    1958: Cezanne from Goldschmidt
    Peter Wilson, Sotheby's chairman from 1958 to 1980, selling Cézanne's Le Garçon au gilet rouge at the Goldschmidt sale, the first evening auction of Impressionist and Modern art. The success of the 1958 sale and the increasing number of outstanding artworks entering American collections were major factors in the company's decision to open a New York office and, subsequently, to acquire US auction house Parke-Bernet.
  • 1959: Rubens' Adoration of the Magi through the wall
    Assembled as it is from 17 houses knocked together, Sotheby's New Bond Street premises occasionally present architectural challenges. In 1959, it was necessary to cut holes in the building's floors and walls to get the enormous canvas of Rubens' Adoration of the Magi into the saleroom.
  • © Barnet Saidman
    1962: Valuations Counter
    The valuation counter in 1962, where the public could bring objects to be examined by an expert eye. In 2017, Sotheby's innovated this process by launching an online consignment platform to make it simple for people to discover the value of their items.
  • 1988: Elton John memorabilia
    Pictured here adorned with banana epaulettes, Elton John held a sale at Sotheby's in 1988 of stage costumes and memorabilia, allowing fans to buy a piece of his endlessly creative musical career.
  • 2003: Rembrandt
    These two images show the layers of history that were unravelled thanks to a combination of the expert eye, and the use the latest tools of scientific analysis. In this case, a striking self-portrait by Rembrandt (one of only three remaining in private hands) was discovered under layers of overpaint, where it had remained hidden for 300 years. George Gordon, from Sotheby's Old Master Paintings department, remembers first seeing the painting: "What struck us was the quality of the painting in the area of the sitter's lower face... This area stood out in a way that strongly suggested it was the work of a superior hand...". Soon after the picture was examined with x-rays and infra-red photography, and the pigments were analysed, confirming not only that the underlying painting was by Rembrandt, but also casting a new light on working practices in his studio. Today, Sotheby's is the only auction house to have brought this kind of scientific analytical capability in-house, having acquired Orion Analytical in 2016, whose founder, Jamie Martin, now runs Sotheby's Department of Scientific Research.
  • 2012: The Scream Record
    One of the most universally recognised images in art history, this 1895 pastel version of Edvard Munch's The Scream sold for $119.9 million in New York in 2012, setting a new record as the most expensive artwork sold at auction up until that point.
  • 2015: Freerunner on monumental Barbara Hepworth sculpture at Chatsworth
    Sotheby's goes where the action is with its Private Sales activities. Pictured is a freerunner leaping from Barbara Hepworth's Three Obliques (Walk In) installed as part of Beyond Limits, a monumental sculpture exhibition at Chatsworth.
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