• ARTnewsletter Archive

    Paris Auctions: Sotheby’s and Christie’s Pull Ahead of the Pack

    Overall 2008 auction sales totals—including decorative art, collectibles and other genres as well as fine art—showed Sotheby's and Christie's occupying the top two spots for the first time, simultaneously forging a huge lead over the rest of the field.

    PARIS—Overall 2008 auction sales totals—including decorative art, collectibles and other genres as well as fine art—showed Sotheby’s and Christie’s occupying the top two spots for the first time, simultaneously forging a huge lead over the rest of the field. After a 92 percent increase in 2007, Sotheby’s sales climbed a further 30 percent in 2008 to €155.2million ($228.4 million), ousting Christie’s from the lead position in France, which it had held for the previous five years.

    Sotheby’s top price for the year, the €5million ($6.3million) paid for Georges Seurat’s Au divan japonais (ANL, 12/9/08), was also the highest price at any auction in France in 2008, and the firm led the French market in several sectors, notably contemporary art, photography and Tribal art. Thirty-five percent of its buyers were from France, 39 percent from the rest of Europe, and 26 percent from the rest of the world.

    Christie’s Paris sales total of €150.3million ($221.1 million) was down 19 percent from last year’s, although, to put that in perspective, its 2005 sales were just €115million. The house’s upcoming sale of the Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Bergé Collection in Paris next month is expected to bring €200million/300million.

    Sotheby’s and Christie’s each recorded 18 individual prices over €1million in Paris in 2008. In sales of Postwar and contemporary art, Sotheby’s won out, taking in €33.4million ($49.1million) to Christie’s €24.7 million ($36.3 million), but Christie’s surpassed its rival in auctions of Impressionist and modern art, with total sales of €30.4million ($44.7 million) to Sotheby’s €28million ($41.2million).

    A Sizable Lead

    Sotheby’s and Christie’s have now opened up a sizable gap between them and next-nearest rival Artcurial, who only last year ran neck-and-neck with Sotheby’s. Despite sales of €20.4million ($30million) for contemporary art and €15.1million ($22million) for modern art, as well as solid sales of €7.6million ($11.2 million) in the arcane field of comic strips, Artcurial’s auction turnover slumped by more than 25 percent, to €94million ($138million)—although that was still comfortably ahead of its Paris rival Tajan, where sales were down 17 percent, to €58million ($85.3million).

    At the Hôtel Drouot, which hosts sales staged by most of Paris’s other 70 auction companies, total sales fell 18 percent to €411million ($604million), with just 10 individual prices over €1million (compared with 36 seven-figure prices at Sotheby’s and Christie’s combined). Such is the fragmented nature of the Paris auction scene that the top five fine-art prices (after the Seurat at Sotheby’s) were divided among five different firms: €2million ($2.6million) for Pablo Picasso’s Portrait de Mousquetaire, 1967, at Millon & Associés; €1.86million ($2.9 million) for Vasily Kandinsky’s Epanouissement, 1943, at Aguttes; €1.74 million ($2.3million) for Etienne Dinet’s Orientalist painting Jeunes baigneuses au bord de l’Oued at Gros-Delettrez; €1.73million ($2.2million) for Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Gem Spa, 1982, at Cornette de St-Cyr; and €1.08million ($1.7million) for Bernhard Strigel’s Angel Holding a Censer, circa 1500, at Delvaux.

    Among the firms that sold at Drouot, Piasa led the pack, with sales of €43million ($63.3million), down 12 percent from the year before (albeit after a 34 percent rise in 2007). Total sales at Pierre Bergé & Associés, which includes auctions at Drouot and at its saleroom in Brussels, fell 24 percent to €32million ($47.1million).

    SIMON HEWITT