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Sotheby's Institute of Art

The art of Buying and Selling at Auction

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What does it take to buy and sell successfully at auction? This course offers an insider’s perspective on the thrilling, fast-paced world of art auctions, taking students behind the scenes to learn from top professionals at one of the world’s premier auction houses. The course will examine such questions as, who are the key players in an auction house and what do they do? What are the different factors that determine the price of art, and how are values assigned? How has the internet changed the role of auctions in today’s art market? By the end of the course, students will master such concepts as commissions, reserves, guarantees, and irrevocable bids. Perfect for aspiring collectors, dealers, or the simply curious, this course will enable students to approach art auctions with the knowledge and confidence necessary to succeed.

What you will learn:

  • How to evaluate the opportunities, challenges, and risks posed by buying and selling at auction, including how to analyze auction results
  • How values are assigned and prices are determined
  • The legal, financial, and technical aspects involved in buying and selling art
  • The changes introduced by e-commerce and how digital platforms are changing the auction business

Sample Topics

Week 1: An Overview of Art Auctions

  • A brief history of art auctions
  • The key terminology and concepts associated with art auctions
  • Understanding different ways of bidding
  • Global and regional markets
  • Who’s who in the saleroom: the auctioneer
  • Auction House interview

Week 2: Inside the Auction House

  • Selling the sale: tips for buyers and sellers
  • Attracting consignments: sourcing and the famous 3 D’s
  • Pricing: authenticity and other factors that determine price
  • Understanding reserves
  • Inside the catalogue
  • At the preview
  • Who’s who behind the scenes: the specialist
  • Auction House interview

Week 3: Understanding the Art of the Sale

  • Buyer premiums and vendor commissions
  • Guarantees, irrevocable bids, & hammer share
  • Art as an asset class: loans
  • Who’s who with the contracts: the art lawyer
  • Auction House interview

Week 4: The Internet Revolution

  • Benefits and challenges of the online revolution: what is the future?
  • Different models: buying online at traditional sales
  • New companies: buying online only
  • New technologies: blockchain
  • Who’s who online: the digital market
  • Auction House interview


Maria brings over 25 years of international experience in the art world, first at museums – National Museum of Catalan Art, MNAC, in Barcelona and at the Louvre in Paris- then at Sotheby’s Auction House in London. During her time at Sotheby’s, she gained experience in all aspects of the auction w...
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