The auction of art is a long-standing tradition that has evolved over time. Its origins can be traced back to the ancient Greeks. Herodotus, for example, mentions auctions for slaves and women, which are examples of the auctioning of art. Auctions for art also exist in Roman times, but these auctions were generally for disposing of war booty and slaves. While they did not take hold in Asia, they persisted in Europe until the early Christian age and gradually faded away.
Major auctions generally select only the work of artists with a proven track record. The auction house wants to maximize profit and avoid wasting money on works that have no value. That’s why they require a certain amount of sales before accepting art for auction. These minimum amounts are usually five or ten thousand dollars. Moreover, these artists must have a recognizable name and exhibition history.
The modern history of auctions dates back to the mid-17th century, when Edward Earl of Oxford sold a large art collection at auction. This was a great breakthrough for British buyers, since they were able to avoid the expense of exporting artworks from Italy. The auctions also became a crucial collecting space after the Napoleonic wars.
In a typical auction, an artwork is listed in a catalogue called a lot. The lot consists of one or more pieces, but usually one. A consignor, who puts a piece of art up for auction, is usually an institution or an estate. The auction house uses an appraiser to assign an approximate market value.