PARIS—While worldwide auction sales enjoyed strong growth in 2007, sales in France remained stable at approximately €2.2 billion ($3 billion), according to the annual report issued by the Conseil des ventes, the state auction watchdog. The French market is increasingly concentrated, with 3 percent of the country’s 381 firms realizing 44 percent of the total sales. Fine art, furniture and antiques accounted for €1.15 billion, a 3 percent drop from the previous year. Fine art alone accounted for a relatively slim €196 million ($268.5 million) of the total.
With Paris sales buoyed by auctioneers Christie’s and Sotheby’s, the slowdown has been most evident in provincial France—although sales at Hôtel Drouot, accounting for more than 70 Paris firms, have stagnated at €500 million ($685 million).
France’s competitive edge keeps getting whittled away, says the report, with the country remaining “outside global market trends.” Contemporary art, which is fueling auction activity worldwide, is “not a growth element” in France, owing to fiscal and legal constraints such as droit de suite (artists’ resale rights) and a value-added tax (VAT) on imports.
While acknowledging the weak dollar as a factor, the Conseil faults French firms for failing to capitalize on Internet auctions and to expand the presence of French art in Asian and Middle Eastern markets. It further blames domestic legislation for preventing French auctioneers from exploiting lucrative private sales. Auctioneers in France are not permitted to own—and, therefore, sell—goods; legally they are just middlemen.
Largely as a consequence of these constraints, there was a hefty new rise in exports, to the value of at least €800 million ($1.1 billion), the report notes. Sales in France of 20th-century fine art (including contemporary art) fell 33 percent, to €130 million ($178.1 million). The latest figures, the Conseil warns, reflect a “fresh erosion of France’s global market share.”