Runaway Records Across the Board
LONDON—Auctions of Impressionist, modern and contemporary art at the Christie’s and Sotheby’s London salerooms from June 18-22 were up sharply compared with last year’s totals, underscoring London’s increasing prominence as a major auction venue. The city’s key biannual auctions of art each February and June traditionally have complemented the larger New York sales season that precedes them in May and November. In recent seasons, however, London sales have been closing the gap with New York, both for individual prices realized at the top end for trophy artworks and for overall sale totals.
The growth is attributed to several factors, apart from the general expansion of the market. First, there is the strength of the pound to the dollar, which encourages more selling by Americans in the U.K. Then there is the influx of new buyers, particularly from Russia, who prefer to bid at London sales.
Christie’s president of Europe and international director, Impressionist and 20th-century art, Jussi Pylkkänen said the results point to “a market driven by confidence and the ever-increasing number of new buyers entering it and competing with established collectors for masterpieces on offer.” Both houses noted the demand from Russian buyers as a factor behind some of the strong prices realized. Robin Woodhead, chief executive of Sotheby’s International, said the total, the house’s highest ever for a week of sales in London, confirms “beyond all doubt London’s rapid ascent as a central hub of the art market.
Auctions Nearly Double Last Year’s Totals
Sotheby’s and Christie’s reported combined sales of £441.7 million ($877.7 million), compared with £295.08 million ($544.4 million) last year, a nearly 50 percent increase. Phillips, de Pury & Company, which held an inaugural London sale last October and another in February, realized £23.3 million ($46.4 million) for its contemporary art sale on June 22. (The auctioneer no longer holds sales of Impressionist and modern art.)
Christie’s was the overall leader, realizing £237 million ($470.4 million), in contrast with £141.5 million ($260.7 million) a year ago. At Sotheby’s the total was £204.7 million ($407.3 million), compared with £153.6 million (283.7 million) a year-ago in June.
This overall rate of growth in London sales compares favorably with New York, where the November and May sales stayed steady at approximately £700 million ($1.4 billion), and confirms London as the faster-growing of the two markets.
When the figures are broken down, the London sales growth is attributable more to contemporary than Impressionist and modern art. Although Christie’s £121 million Impressionist sale was the highest ever in that category in London, Impressionist sales all around totaled £243.2 million—only £30 million pounds up from last June.
Contemporary art sales over the same period have risen by £140 million, from £81 million to £221.6 million. Sotheby’s main Impressionist sale actually scored lower than a year-ago June (£88.7 million) and February (£95 million). But all three salerooms posted their highest London totals ever for contemporary sales, both evening or day sales.