Christie’s – the oldest auction house in the world

Auction house Christie's
Auction house Christie’s

The oldest auction house in the world: what was sold at Christie’s 200 years ago

What was sold at Christie’s 200 years ago, when collecting antiques and works of art was just becoming fashionable among aristocrats? In the archives of one of the oldest auction houses in the world, information about lots, regular customers and the final price of items has been preserved.

200 years ago, everyone rushed to Christie’s auction rooms. It was not necessary to take part in the auction, it was enough just to show oneself and look at others, and then discuss the events of the evening in a narrow circle of friends and acquaintances. But among the visitors of the house there were also serious people who bought and sold rare and exotic gizmos.

The most famous collectors of that time are Sir Robert MacFarlane, the antiquary Sir Henry Englefield and the banker William Esdaile.

An untitled painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat sold for $110.5 million.
An untitled painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat sold for $110.5 million.

200 years ago, paintings were actively sold at Christie’s, as stated in archival data.

For example, it is known that in the late 1790s, paintings by French painters, as well as furniture and works of art brought to the London market from Greece, were of particular interest. Dealers looked for interesting lots especially for the Prince Regent, who liked gizmos from Japan and China. And already by 1819, as can be seen from the catalog issued for the auction on March 26, Dutch, Flemish and Italian masters were also in demand.

By the way, on this day, a certain Mr. Bonnemaison bought a painting by Nicolas Poussin for only 116.11 pounds, placed in the catalog under the title “Large landscape with the giant Orion, Diana and other mythical characters.” Today, Blind Orion Seeks the Rising Sun is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Auction Christie's
Auction Christie’s

A month after the painting auction, Queen Charlotte’s library, consisting of 4,415 lots, was auctioned off. Each of them was sold for an average of 5 thousand pounds (a fabulous amount at that time). It is noteworthy that the buyers were women, admirers of Her Majesty, who in those days rarely took part in auctions.

In July of the same year, Miss Hotham’s property from the house on Herring Court, located next to Richmond Bridge, was put up for auction. Furniture, 16 large orange trees and indoor plants could not be brought into the halls of the auction house, so the organizer of the auction, James Christie, rented rooms in Richmond, from Mr. Robertson. The fact is that from the windows of his estate, Miss Hotham’s gardens with orange trees were visible, which as a result were sold for 20 pounds each.

Painting by Pablo Picasso Algerian women
Painting by Pablo Picasso Algerian women

In total, in 1819, Christie’s held 37 auctions.

In addition to paintings and antiques, the property of Sir Robert Strange, a Scottish engraver R.A. and 200 pieces of silverware owned by Mrs Wheeler, a lady of high society. Later, the auction house held an outdoor sale of the property directly at the home of Mrs. Wielay, in Kensington Square.

Jean-Michel Basquiat In This case
Jean-Michel Basquiat In This case
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