The auction house Christie’s is celebrating its 250th anniversary in 2016. Here are some things you may not know about this London institution.
It’s older than the United States
Christie’s was founded in 1766 by a young Scotsman named James Christie, in a time when it was acceptable to name a company after yourself. This was a full two years before the foundation of the Royal Academy of Arts, and ten years before the United States signed the Declaration of Independence.
Pall Mall is where it all began
At numbers 83-84 Pall Mall, James Christie held his first sale where he sold a pair of sheets, two pillowcases, two chamber pots and four irons. After a year, Christie realised it would be more lucrative to move into selling paintings. The auction house only moved its headquarters to its current location in King Street in 1823 when James Christie’s son, James Christie II, took over the company.
James (the elder) clearly deciding he wasn’t satisfied with simply naming a company after himself, and that his progeny should carry his name too.
The South Kensington branch is a much more recent addition and opened in 1975.
Technically, it’s not called Christie’s
The third generation of the Christie family to be involved with the business was George Henry. He took on two partners and the company changed its name to Christie, Manson and Woods. CMW is still officially the name of the company even though the brand is Christie’s.
George Henry’s son, also called James Christie, was the last of the Christie family to take part in running the business.
Auctioneering as an art form
Today’s auctioneers see their role as a performance, but it wasn’t always that way. The role functioned largely as an administrative task until James Christie realised that injecting some charisma into the proceedings would deliver better results.
Effects of the Blitz
Number 8 King Street was destroyed by incendiary bombs in 1941, so auctions had to be held at Derby House on Oxford Street and Spencer House in St James’s for some time. Christie’s was only allowed to move back into King Street after the building was repaired in 1953.
The most expensive item sold
The most expensive painting to sell at an auction was Picasso’s Women of Algiers, but this was at Christie’s New York branch.
The most expensive item to sell at Christie’s London was a Rubens for a little under £45m. Other highlights include a Monet waterlilies for just over £40m and a Henry Moore statue for around £25m.
It’s sold a Routemaster
A vintage 1966 Routemaster double decker bus was sold for £67,250 in 2012. Other unorthodox yet impressive items include a Spitfire sold for £3.1m and Pele’s football shirt for £157,750.