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Buy and Sell Art - art auctions

  A ballroom of a five star hotel has been booked well in advance and catalogues given to the invitees to encircle their choice of bids for a prestigious art auction. The bidding begins with a mandatory speech regarding the paintings and the artists. Each auction has a story to tell- about the masterpiece, the painter, some stolen moments or an amusing anecdote. Anonymous bids over the telephone, secret deals, raised eye brows at higher bids, whispers of a good haul, a hint of scandal have all been a part of many an art auction process.

Over a period of last few decades, the bidding process have improvised. For those who have recently joined the art world and related events, in the social calendar, an art auction is a highly organized event planned months in advance. Of the auction houses, actively bringing down the hammer on high stake bids Sotheby and Christies top the list. An art auction is a serious event in the most glamorous settings. Only seasoned aficionados are able to understand the practical details of a public sale.

Oldest Auction Houses

Auction houses may not be as old as art itself. However, the concept of art auction has existed since the 17th century. Genuine masterpieces have passed the hands of curators and enhanced the price a timeless piece de resistance. The adage ‘old is gold’ applies as well in art appreciation and collectables has generations of valuable patrons. In the past, the true connoisseur, bid out of passion to possess a work of art. Today, auctions have become business propositions for investors, artists and dealers alike! Higher the bid, higher the stake of the timeless artwork.

British owned Bonhams Group is perhaps the oldest and today the third largest auction house, founded in 1793. Today with an acquisition in the form of Butterflies and merger in the form of Brooks that has British benefit with Philips auctioneers makes it a prestigious auction house. Officially, now Bonhams has also tied up with an Australian fine art auctioneers three years ago. Now they have the largest number of sales rooms and auction houses in nearly 14 countries.

Some of the other auction houses that have actively conducted auctions include:


IN 1744, Samuel Baker, the founder of the premium auction house began an auction by selling Polite Literature for a few hundred pounds. After his death, his nephew John Sotheby expanded the firm’s business to all art and sacred literature. Now two centuries later the auction house has branches all over the world. It has also increased its services. Apart from interest of art collectors, Sotheby is into exclusive real estate with prime properties worldwide, trusts and appraisals of antiques, coins, and sculptures. Their mainstay remains exclusive art auctions. As the international art mart has grown, so has this pioneering firm. Apparently, it was the first auction house to have an auction on cyberspace via eBay Live Auction Services. Of course, it met with a huge success. Sotheby is at its innovative best and continues to remain on the art map through its bids.


In 1766, James Christie launched his auction house with a powerful tool-his humor and excellent talk. The last two centuries witnessed some major prices on valuable collectables. The art of buying and selling is clearly one of the most helpful areas, which makes Christies a knowledgeable source of information. Catalogues help in identifying the painting or collectable that one wishes to own. They provide many other services- even wine tasting! Year round auctions events take place in different parts of the world.

Philips de Pury & Luxembourg

Apart from classical paintings, jewelry and contemporary art specialists based in Geneva conduct auctions in Europe. Even the de Pury & Luxembourg art galleries in Zurich have conducted auctions for 20th century photographs, Impressionist and modern paintings. Some other important art galleries across Europe include Paris-based Tajan. Both French and English languages help to appraise bidders to art works. In 1941 Swann Galleries opened up to auction rare books and since then it remains the world’s largest in this sector. They have now extended their services to moving media, and visual arts. In Austria and Prague, auction house Dorotheum conducts nearly 600 auctions. They have a huge employee base of 400 people with over 70 other skilled experts in collectables. Bowrings is another big auction house which has conducted an auction recently in Chennai.

Indian Art Auctions

Auction houses in India may be a new concept. However, thanks to the British who had huge collections of rare Indian artworks in their possession and various museums Indian art has a sizable presence in the art world. Nevertheless, this century seems to have a dubious distinction of having some high number of fake artworks making it to the auction scene. The latest fakes made it to an art gallery in New York and just before the Sotheby and Christies exhibitions, 12 fakes were removed.

India has its own exclusive auction house called Osian and the man behind it is enterprising Neville Tulli. He moved from London to Mumbai after studying from London school of economics. It was in 1997 he conducted the first full-fledged Indian auction (until then Sotheby & Christies held auctions in India occasionally). Neville is in the process of having not only an auction house but also collecting to create an archive for future auctions. He has grand plans to bring his auction house to international art mart. And with many international art houses as his clients and several Indian artists under his promotion he is heading in the right direction.

Buying At An Art Auction

Most auction houses chart out the social calendar for buying and selling nearly a year in advance. Regular patrons are given catalogues in addition, about what will be put under the hammer. Since one has a lot of time of hand it is ideal to keep a few things in mind if wanting to buy at an auction.

1. Acquaint yourself with all the history connected to the artwork and artist. Get to know his other works as well.
2. Once you know all that is needed you can safely put your bid. Consult some art dealers or historians too if need be.
3. Remember that there are others too in the fray for bidding. Get to know if there are any buyer’s premiums.
4. Sometimes old artworks are restored and it is extremely difficult to judge if it will be worth its bid. Get to know the condition of the sale. This will help to assess the appropriate values.
5. Ask in the market what price could it fetch otherwise (auction house is likely to get better premiums though).
6. Find out if the artwork is authentic, insured and has the certificate as well.
7. A true work of art should be priceless but not ‘pricey’. Don’t get carried away in an attempt to posses the artwork.
8. Ideally attend some auctions first to understand how the price bids work. This will help you to place your bid at the right time. - N A Nagpal




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