UK sales lead soaring global art market


In the first quarter of this year, the global fine art market increased 37% by value sold, jumping from US$1.6 billion in Q1 2013 to reach over US$2.2 billion this year. This increase was in large part due to an extremely successful Q1 in the United Kingdom, with Christie’s and Sotheby’s auctions alone bringing in an additional US$400 million in the first quarter. With the United Kingdom market topping US$1.2 billion, up 47% from the US$847.9 million sold in Q1 2013, the global market was able to surge ahead of last year’s first quarter figures.

These are key findings from auction sales in Q1 of this year, newly released by artnet, a leading resource to buy, sell, and research fine art, design, and decorative art online. This year’s performance followed a successful 2013, a year which witnessed the global fine art market increase of 5% by value sold according to the artnet Price Database.

“Q1 would not have been quite as successful without the gains made by Christie’s and Sotheby’s,” said Jacob Pabst, CEO of artnet. “The biggest increase in value sold by country was in the United Kingdom, and within this market those two houses accounted for 95% of the additional value sold.

“Overall, these two houses have performed well recently because they have increased the number of private collections and special sales offered.”

Prominent private collections included Sotheby’s London’s sale of the AJ Thompson Collection, and Christie’s London’s sale of the Mira Jacob Collection. Christie’s London also featured a successful sale of Italian artworks, Eyes Wide Open: An Italian Vision. The sale resulted in 13 new artist records according to the auction house, including the sale of Alberto Burri’s Combustine Plastica, which sold for US$7.6 million.

“This trend can be seen elsewhere around the world – both at brick and mortar houses and online – as auctions attempt to lure more collectors with diversified offerings,” said Pabst.

He added that artnet auctions are also seeing impressive results: the site’s sales continue to grow at a significant pace.

“More and more collectors are now comfortable buying online, and our market leader position enables us to capture a disproportionate share of that growth,” he said. “As more artwork of higher value are offered and sold online, this creates a virtuous cycle that ultimately benefits everyone.”

Several countries in the Eurozone also saw promising signs of growth this quarter. Value sold was up relative to Q1 2013 in France (+45%), Belgium (+11%), Germany (+8%), and Switzerland (+5%).

Following a year of constant growth, 2014 began rather slowly in the United States, with the market down 7% by value from the first quarter of 2013. Following impressive London sales, Christie’s and Sotheby’s continue to promise big consignments for their upcoming Post-War and Contemporary sales in May. The Chinese art market was also off to a slow start, down 22% by value from last year.

Globally, high value lots performed particularly well this quarter, with 292 lots selling for over US$1 million, up over 50% from the same period last year. These lots represented a total value of US$1.2 billion, accounting for over half of the value sold this year.

The top five works sold so far in 2014 were all sold in London, and were spread across the Contemporary, Modern, and Impressionist categories. Led by Francis Bacon’s Portrait of George Dyer Talking, which sold for £42.2 million at Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary auction in London, these five works accounted for 17% of value sold in the United Kingdom this year. Portrait of George Dyer Talking also became the most expensive work ever sold at Christie’s London.

The top 10 artists in 2014 by value sold at auction in Q1 include: Andy Warhol (US$112.7 million), Francis Bacon (US$75.8 million), Gerhard Richter (US$75.2 million), Juan Gris (US$57.5 million), Camille Pissarro (US$39 million), Qi Baishi (US$37.4 million), Wu Changshuo (US$37.2 million), René Magritte (US$35.7 million), Fernand Léger (US$35.5 million), and Cy Twombly (US$34.3 million).

“High value lots have been performing well for some time now, and this probably reflects the uneven distribution of the fruits of the economic recovery, which so far has disproportionately benefited the most affluent segment of the population,” said Pabst. “The middle market has not yet seen the impact of improving economic conditions to the same extent, as is also reflected in the challenges faced by many middle tier galleries.”

Pabst said that artnet has seen great growth in recent years, with more high value lots, more buyers and sellers, and a customer base that becomes ever more global as it expands.

“We seem to be reaching a tipping point, with our auctions showing clear gains,” he said.

He added that online auctions offer certain advantages to buyers.

“Greater liquidity and lower transaction costs are obviously key,” he said. “Speed is also a competitive advantage versus traditional auctions: works go up quickly, and transactions are completed swiftly – any time of the year. There is no need to wait for a scheduled auction.”

Following a year of historic sales and significant growth in the Post-War and Contemporary market, there is of course some uncertainty regarding whether the market can keep pace with last year’s growth; however, Pabst said that overall, many people remain optimistic, despite some on-going economic uncertainty and political instability around the world.

“Results from Q1 suggest that many regions affected by slow economic growth have picked up this year, and the major sales in May promise major consignments indicative of high demand”, he said.


Jacob Pabst

Jacob Pabst