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).