Beyond the auction: Much of Christie's focus today is on generating private deals, such as the 2006 sale of Gustav Klimt's iconic "Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I" to Ronald S. Lauder for $135 million. Lauder bought the painting for Manhattan's Neue Galerie.
Last November Jussi Pylkkänen, the bespoke-suited and unnaturally calm Christie's auctioneer, conducted history. He was orchestrating the sale of three paintings -- a triptych by Francis Bacon -- for $142.4 million. As the gavel fell and the crowd in the main auction room of Christie's North America burst into applause, Steven Murphy said in a voice barely loud enough to call a murmur, "That has never happened before." Yet Murphy, the company's CEO since 2011 and the first American to run the British house, would be quick to admit that it was supposed to happen: What was a landmark moment in art economics and Christie's own 248-year history -- the most expensive sale of a single work at auction ever -- was also the culmination of the first phase of a major realignment for the esteemed auction house.