Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

Announced last week, the wide-ranging classification, termed Old Masters and 19th Century Art, represents a major change in how the auctioneers will handle consignments of traditional pictures.

While some of the former familiar sale categories will remain as stand-alone auctions, many works will now be included in a sale offering European art from c.1300 to 1900. Bringing many different art movements under one umbrella will cut costs, but Christie’s say it is also in the interests of buyers and sellers to “bring together the combined strength of these specialist areas”.

Catalogues will be presented to a far broader global audience and encourage the “significant levels of crossover buying” that Christie’s have observed over the last decade.

Asked whether the change will involve staff redundancies, a spokesman for the auction house said: “A small number of people will be affected” although they would not go into more detail.

While billing it as a new initiative, the regrouping and amalgamating of picture categories has been going on in all the major rooms for some time. Increasingly, Old Master sales have incorporated traditional British 18th and 19th century pictures while Christie’s now put decorative Old Masters of lower value into their South Kensington Interiors sales.

Christie’s say the amalgamation of departments is part of a long-term strategy that has been under consideration for some years – although clearly the economic situation has accelerated events.

What makes this announcement more significant is the range and scale of the reorganisation and the reduction in the number of separate specialist sale categories.

It represents a move away from traditional categorisation and the increased sale specialisation of the 1990s that Christie’s now find restrictive.

Among former dedicated sales that will now be included in the new 600-year, all-embracing platform will be: 19th century European art; Old Master and British pictures; sporting, Scottish and Irish art, and Old Master and 19th century drawings.

Orientalist pictures (which remain a strong market), 20th century British art and Victorian and Traditionalist Paintings (now renamed Victorian and British Impressionist Paintings) will remain as stand-alone events. Orientalist art will be sold in both London and Paris, the other two in both London rooms.

The Maritime sale in South Kensington will also remain and CSK will have a new category titled Old Master, 19th century and British Works on Paper.

Accordingly, while the new Old Master and 19th Century sales will be the option for many pictures, each work will be assessed on its individual merit. A Constable drawing could feature in the new ‘catch-all’ category but equally, depending on quality, could be sold through a South Kensington works on paper sale.

Scottish or sporting pictures will now be sold through one of the three classes depending on age, subject and artist. In short, an Allan Ramsay would feature in the catalogue of Old Masters and 19th Century Art, while a Samuel Peploe would probably be sold through a Modern British sale.

The main flagship auctions in the new Old Masters and 19th century Art class will take place in New York in January and at evening sales in July and December in London. The first occasion to test their effectiveness will be in London on July 7, when Christie’s hold a sale to coincide with Master Paintings week.

By Anne Crane