Sotheby’s is to be bought by French-Israeli billionaire and telecoms entrepreneur Patrick Drahi for $3.7bn (£3bn).
Mr Drahi’s BidFair USA company will pay Sotheby’s shareholders a 61 per cent premium on Friday’s closing price.
“After more than 30 years as a public company, the time is right for Sotheby’s to return to private ownership to continue on a path of growth and success,” said board chairman Domenico De Sole.
Between them, the two London-founded companies dominate the international market for sales of fine art and collectibles.
Mr Drahi, 55, is controlling shareholder of French telecommunications firm Altice, which he founded in 2001 and which has since rapidly expanded through a series of acquisitions of cable and mobile operations.
He said he was “honoured” that Sotheby’s had recommended his offer, which will see shareholders compensated at £45.50 per share.
“Sotheby’s is one of the most elegant and aspirational brands in the world,” Mr Drahi said. “As a longtime client and lifetime admirer of the company, I am acquiring Sotheby’s together with my family.”
Tad Smith, Sotheby’s chief executive, welcomed Mr Drahi as “one of the most well-regarded entrepreneurs in the world ... known for his commitment to innovation and ingenuity”.
Mr Smith added: “This acquisition will provide Sotheby’s with the opportunity to accelerate the successful programme of growth initiatives of the past several years in a more flexible private environment.”
Sotheby’s said it expects the deal to close in the fourth quarter of this year subject to approval by shareholders.
The 61 per cent premium to be paid by Mr Drahi is an indication of the strength of the markets for fine art and collectibles, which was underlined by the November 2017 sale of Leonardo da Vinci’s painting Salvatore Mundi for a world record $450m (£359m).
Global art sales grew 6 per cent in 2018 to $67.4bn (£54bn), according to a report from UBS and art fair organisers Art Basel. Over 80 per cent of works sold at auction for over $1m were sold by Sotheby’s and Christie’s, the report said.
Founded in 1744, Sotheby’s sells a variety of items at its 10 auction houses around the world, including jewellery, watches, wine and fine art.
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