History of Auctions: Auctions From Past to Present

The auctions date back to the 5th century BC. The first auctions are the bridal girl auctions and slave auctions, which Herodotus speaks of, held annually in Babylon. Art auctions take place in the 3rd century BC. The curiosity that awakened to the collections made with Greek works looted from Anatolia by the Roman commanders led to the organization of a modern art market with historiography, curators and museums at that time. Meanwhile, war spoils sculptures and reliefs also fall into auctions to raise their prices. Thus, slaves, prostitutes, and images of gods find the highest possible value at auctions in a festive mood. From the fall of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance, the auction was discredited. In the 17th and 18th centuries, when art was freed from the patronage of the clergy and the nobility and as an order-based craft, the art market, which began to organize in the Netherlands, is reintroducing auctions. The first international auction house is Auktionsverket, founded in 1674 in Stockholm and is still active. It is followed by Sotheby's, founded in London in 1744. However, Sotheby's has been heavily involved in selling books for a long time, even in the 20th century. James Christie also establishes his auction house in London in 1766. It is considered the first true "art auction house" as it specializes in painting and furniture sales from the very beginning. At that time, there were about sixty other auction firms in London alone. Thanks to his influence among the ruling elite, James Christie holds auctions of noble 'treasures', including Tsarina Catherina's unique collection. Christie is also the one who put the auction into an expensive entertainment, a show, a social event.

The transformation of art into a speculative tool that has become increasingly active with the financialization of art has made the auction the most dominant environment in the organization of art in contemporary times. And large auction companies have rapidly grown into corporations that are rapidly globalizing, with distinctive educational, financial, communication and exhibition networks. Not only that, it became the most widespread and powerful source of information about art, encompassing art history and criticism, deeply appropriating them. Auction records began to replace the aesthetic canon and beauty norms that had been formed for centuries. The contemporary "academy" is now Christie’s or Sotheby’s academies. Today, "the way to have a career in the international art world" passes through Sotheby's. Sotheby's offers postgraduate (MA) and doctorate (PhD) courses as well as various collecting course programs at its academic centers in London and New York. The academic staff consists of "Sotheby's experts, gallery managers, artists, traders, art lawyers, public relations and marketing experts and practitioners, and critics and those working in the arts." As will be noted, education is almost purged from the history of art. Today, more than 6,000 Sotheby's alumni manage art around the world.