Illustrative purposes: A model poses with the "The Apollo Blue" and "The Artemis Pink" diamonds, mounted as earrings, during a press preview by Sotheby's auction house, on May 11, 2017 in Geneva. Image Credit: AFP

London: Sotheby’s, the auction house whose shares have dropped 40 per cent in the past year, is being sold to telecom titan Patrick Drahi for $2.7 billion.

Investors will receive $57 in cash per share of Sotheby’s common stock under terms of the agreement, according to a statement on Monday from the New York-based company. The offer represents a 61 per cent premium to the closing price on Friday. Sotheby’s shares rose 57 per cent to $55.58 as of 9:40am in New York. The enterprise value is $3.7 billion.

Sotheby’s is returning to private ownership after 31 years as a public company, the last few spent battling expenses and margins even as masterpieces and contemporary works soared in value. Drahi, 55, is the president of Altice Europe NV, a publicly traded telecommunications business with more than 30 million customers. An avid art collector, he’s worth $8.6 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

“Sotheby’s is one of the most elegant and aspirational brands in the world,” Drahi said in the statement. “As a longtime client and lifetime admirer of the company, I am acquiring Sotheby’s together with my family.”

Drahi’s latest purchase is a surprise move for a man known for the telecoms empire he built, which grew out of a string of debt-financed acquisitions in France before eventually expanding to the US in 2015. Drahi said he intends to monetise a small piece of the US business for as much as $400 million to fund the Sotheby’s deal.

Altice Europe’s main asset is SFR in France. The business is finally returning to growth after years of customer losses amid cut-throat competition for subscribers in France. Shares in Altice Europe have gained more than 70 per cent this year.

Drahi’s takeover would mean that French citizens will own the world’s two major auction houses. The family of Francois Pinault, founder of Paris-based luxury goods giant Kering SA, owns Christie’s after first buying a 29.1 per cent stake in the company from British billionaire Joe Lewis two decades ago.

“It was ripe for Sotheby’s to go private,” said Philip Hoffman, chief executive officer of the Fine Art Group and a former Christie’s executive. “Christie’s has more advantages being run privately and not having public quarterly reporting that puts pressure on their ability to do deals.”

LionTree Advisors is advising Sotheby’s, while BNP Paribas and Morgan Stanley working with BidFair, an entity controlled by Drahi. BNP Paribas is sole financing provider.