Sotheby's believes that one man's collection is another man's treasure -- especially when that collection is a rare antique, a unique collectible, or a distinctive work of art. Along with rival Christie's International, Sotheby's dominates the world's auction house market. It orchestrates hundreds of sales each year at its auction centers, dealing mainly in fine art, antiques, and collectibles. Sotheby's receives commissions and fees from both the buyer and the seller on each sale. It also provides loans (secured against works of art) to clients as part of its finance services, and acts as an art dealer through its Noortman Master Paintings business, which specializes in Dutch, Flemish, and French paintings.
The past decade has been a wild ride for Sotheby's. While recovering from the dotcom bust of the early 2000s, the company was hit by an alleged commission fixing scandal involving its former CEO and chairman. Having put its tarnished past behind it and riding high on the booming market for Impressionist and Contemporary art, Sotheby's then fell victim to the global economic downturn. With the international art market in decline, in 2009 the company suffered a loss. The global art market's rebound in 2011 coupled with a boomlet in auction and private sales commissions drove Sotheby's second most profitable year (behind 2007) in its history.
Sotheby's has particularly benefited from buyers and sellers in developing regions, notably China, along with an increase in consigned Asian art collections. Supporting its market presence, the company publishes Hong Kong sales catalogs in Chinese and has launched a Chinese language website. Concurrently, Sotheby's has set its sights on Russia, the Middle East, and South America for growth, opening offices in Moscow, Doha, Qatar, and Brazil in 2011.
Auction commission revenues account for nearly 85% of Sotheby's revenues. The company has overseen the sales of such items as Picasso's Femme Assise dans un Jardin, Degas' Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans, and the last baseball glove used by Lou Gehrig. Sotheby's has simultaneously used its expertise and high profile in art circles to offer secured financing and insurance, and brokerage services for private sales. Additionally, the company offers restoration and appraisal services and operates two art institutes in New York City and London. – less