Historic year at Sotheby's sees 2021 sales hit record high of $7.3 billion

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Monday, June 24, 2024

Historic year at Sotheby's sees 2021 sales hit record high of $7.3 billion
“Our unparalleled expertise and innovation mindset led to extraordinary results across categories and regions and set new benchmarks for selling art and luxury.” -- Charles F. Stewart, Sotheby’s CEO. Courtesy Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, NY.- Sotheby’s reported a record year in the company’s history, driven by strength and depth of demand and an influx of new collectors, and powered by rapid expansion of offerings and platforms.

New sale formats and categories attracted a wider audience of participants (a record number of bidders joined in Sotheby’s sales, with 44% them new to Sotheby’s) and a rise in quality works coming to the market is meeting strong demand from new and established collectors.

Notable achievements underlying these historic results include a number of new benchmarks established across regions and categories, including a record year in Asia, a record year for global sales of Modern and Contemporary art, and a record year for Luxury with Watches, Wine & Spirits, Design and Books & Manuscripts each achieving all-time highs for annual auction totals. Additionally, the arrival of new categories such as streetwear and NFTs have further expanded Sotheby’s audience to a new demographic of collectors.

Art Market Reaches New Highs

Growth in wealth corresponds with growth in demand for emerging artists, as collectors discover new talent in addition to acquiring blue chip works which are selling at new highs:

• Volume of transactions from $5-50 million increased by two thirds: from 91 in 2020 to 158 in 2021

• Works sold for over $10 million in twelve different categories including, Asian Art, Contemporary, Modern, Latin American Art, Old Masters, Watches, Jewels, Books & Manuscripts, and NFTs, with more works sold for over $15 million than in any other year

• 125 plus records made for leading artists in Sotheby’s marquee sales, with hundreds more set across all categories and platforms throughout the year

• A record year for Modern and Contemporary art, with sales of $4.3 billion across auction and private sale channels, including:

New sale formats seamlessly integrating Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary masterpieces, building on the success of the integrated sale categories in London’s 2020 flagship sales

New auction, “The Now”, featuring masters of today and those of tomorrow, resulting in a white glove sale, and drawing broad audiences online and in person, outstripping estimates with deep, vigorous competition for the vast majority of works

• Auction sales of Old Masters at Sotheby’s together realized the highest yearly total in a decade

Seamlessly blending best-in-class physical and digital experiences

• Rapid expansion of web and mobile platforms and a shift to a hybrid livestream auction format, combined with on the ground experiences enhanced with state-of-the-art technology, have dramatically expanded access to an unprecedented number of participants over the last 12 months - since January 2021, 39% of buyers and 44% of bidders are new to Sotheby’s

• Relocating the market’s center of gravity to meet clients where they are led to landmark sales in Las Vegas (auction of 11 Picassos from the MGM Resorts Fine Art Collection in October), Beaune (hosting the renowned Hospices de Beaune wine auction in November) and the sale of a portion of the Karl Lagerfeld collection in Monaco in December, uniting a global team of Sotheby’s specialists across markets to deliver premium client experiences and diversifying ways to transact with Sotheby’s

• This year also saw Sotheby’s expand its global footprint, with the opening of new premises in Cologne (September), Los Angeles (October); as well as an additional private sales pop-up gallery in Monaco.

Dramatic expansion of audiences

• Having welcomed thousands of clients back into its galleries and salerooms in May, Sotheby’s simultaneously expanded its digital capabilities and reach: with over 16.6 million livestream views this year, 4.2 million social followers across all platforms, 13.2 million unique visitors to Sothebys.com, 6.5 million unique visitors to online catalogs, and over 200,000 bids placed online this year representing 92% of total bids; while online sales realized a record $800 million

• Meteoric rise of NFTs and the launch of Sotheby’s Metaverse, a first-of-its-kind dedicated Web3 enabled NFT marketplace, saw a dramatic expansion into a new audience with 78% of NFT bidders being new to Sotheby’s and more than half of them under 40, wide adoption of this new aesthetic and nearly $100 million of NFT sales to date with multiple benchmarks achieved, including a record for a single CryptoPunk ($11.8 million) and a record for a single Bored Ape ($3.4 million). Sotheby’s created a virtual gallery in Decentraland to exhibit NFTs and established dedicated Twitter and Discord channels to engage with the NFT and crypto communities directly

• An influx of younger, tech-savvy collectors also saw a landmark crossover into purchases of physical works such as Alberto Giacometti’s Le Nez bought by Justin Sun, founder of the cryptocurrency platform Tron, for $78.4 million last month in New York

• 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, and a stunning 46% bid or bought on lots over $5 million, resulting in yet another record year for Asia (click here for dedicated release):

In New York in November, Asian collectors accounted for approximately 20% of the bids in New York, acquiring or underbidding a number of the high value works including, Mark Rothko, Yoshitomo Nara, Ellsworth Kelly, Alexander Calder, Gerhard Richter, Banksy, Monet’s Le Bassin aux nymphéas, Egon Schiele, Roy Lichtenstein and Pierre-Auguste Renoir

During the Frieze Week Contemporary Art Sale in London, Banksy’s Love is in the Bin sold to an Asian collector for $25.4 million, setting a record for the artist

Consolidation and strength in Luxury categories

Sotheby’s luxury auctions reached new heights in 2021, with global totals reaching over $1 billion for the first time, a new record for any auction house - driven by a record number of bidders.

• The total for Sotheby’s luxury division is up 78% on the full year total for 2020

• 63% of lots sold for prices in excess of their high estimates, a 40% increase on 2020

• The average value of items sold is up 66% on 2020

• The number of luxury items sold for more than $1 million more than tripled on 2020

• More people participating in Sotheby's luxury sales, than ever before, with 39% more bidders in 2021 than 2020

• New bidders and younger bidders continue to enter the market and drive results. 47% of bidders were new to Sotheby's in 2021, as the number of bidders under 40 also increased by 187%

• Watches, Wine & Spirits, Design, Books, and the Luxury Accessories and Collectibles categories all achieved all-time record annual auction totals

• An expansion of offerings included Sotheby’s first wine and spirit auctions in France, first live Spirits sale in Asia, first sneakers sale in Asia, first watches sales in Paris, and announcement of the permanent expansion into the streetwear market in December

• Collectors from the continent acquired more than 40% of the value of all global Watches sales and 52% of the value of all jewelry sales, including the sale of the second largest pear-shaped diamond to appear on the market, which sold for $12.3 million - the highest price for any jewelry or gemstone purchased with cryptocurrency

• Boutique single owner sales brought rarefied treasures to the market with enviable provenance that captivated collectors and brought a record number of new bidders: the collections of Michelle Smith, Ricky Jay, Sammlung Oppenheimer, Dorothée Lalanne, Stuart Weitzman, Dorothy Tapper Goldman and Pierre Chen

•The launch of The Emporium, a cross category store at Sotheby’s New York offering luxury items for immediate sale: an extension of the company’s growing Buy Now online marketplace



• The most valuable single owner auction ever staged: Works from the Macklowe Collection total $676 million

• The collection of Christo and Jeanne-Claude: 100% sold in Paris, doubling pre-sale estimate

• The legendary collection of Mrs. John L. Marion achieved more than $150 million

• The collection of Dorothée Lalanne, daughter of the famous artist duo: makes $94.3 million, the highest total for any auction in France in 2021

• The first part of the Karl Lagerfeld Collection was 100% sold in Monaco, making €12 million, with 1,400 bidders


• Highest price ever achieved for an Old Master at Sotheby’s: $92.2 million Botticelli

• Auction record for a coin: 1933 Double Eagle sells for $18.9 million

• Most valuable sneakers ever sold: Kanye West 2008 ‘Grammy worn’ Nike Air Yeezy Samples make $1.8 million in a private sale

• A record for a work of Latin American Art: Frida Kahlo’s masterpiece ‘Diego y yo’ sells for $34.9 million

• Banksy’s ‘Love is in the Bin’: painting triples high estimate to bring record $25.4 million - three years after the painting famously shredded in Sotheby’s London auction room

• Most valuable historical document ever sold: a rare printing of the US Constitution sells for $43.2 million

• 101 Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs sold together for $24.4 million, setting a new auction record for a single lot sold online at Sotheby’s

• The highest price ever achieved for a pair of sneakers at auction – Michael Jordan Regular Game Worn Nike Air Ships sold for $1.5 million

• The Hamilton Aphrodite sells for $24.6 million, setting a new record for any ancient marble at auction

• A Patek Philippe ‘Pink on Pink’ Reference 1518 soared to $9.6 million - a new auction record for any wristwatch ever sold at Sotheby’s, and a record for any watch sold at auction this year


• Sotheby’s stages its first US marquee evening sale outside New York: White glove sale of 11 Picassos from the MGM Resorts Fine Art Collection offered at the Bellagio in Las Vegas sell for $109 million

• Sotheby’s first NFT sale, in collaboration with PAK makes $16.8 million with 3000 buyers across the open edition and one-of-one auctions

• The first digital artefact offered at Sotheby’s: The source code for the worldwide web sells as an NFT for $5.3 million

• Sotheby’s became the first auction house to open its own platform dedicated to NFTs, with the launch of Sotheby’s Metaverse in October

• The first selling exhibition dedicated to black jewellery designers: Brilliant and Black

• Sotheby’s first auction in Cologne, took place in September

• In September, Sotheby’s became the first auction house to loan jewellery for Met Gala

• Sotheby’s first Contemporary Curated auction in Asia, launches with the “King of Mandopop”, Jay Chou, as curator.

• First time cryptocurrency is accepted on a physical work of art, and first time a Sotheby’s auctioneer accepted bids live in Ether (ETH) cryptocurrency

• First auction house to create AR technology lens with Snapchat for the Christo Wrapping

• Currently underway in Hong Kong, is Sotheby’s first ever tea auction, featuring some of the finest examples of premium Puerh from the past century.

This year Sotheby’s raised approximately $120 million for non-profit organizations by hosting auctions on behalf of charities and institutions, and through direct donations to art education programs and other charitable initiatives.

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