Christie’s International posted an auction sales total of £626m ($1.013bn) compared to Sotheby’s seven per cent rise to $1.035bn for the same period.
The only two areas that registered a significant decline for Christie’s were jewellery, down 24 per cent – the auctioneers say this is the result of both higher selectivity and lower demand because of financial difficulties in the East – and international Contemporary art sales, down 21 per cent on the same period last year – a misleading figure as Christie’s have reorganised their categories, so Contemporary now only includes works created since 1970.
But these downturns were swamped by a string of high percentages sold by lot and value in other sectors across the company’s salerooms worldwide.
Increases ranged from 27 per cent in the UK (up to £206m [$338m]) to 16 per cent in the US (£316m [$512m]). The European auction total was up 20 per cent to £268m ($435m), and successful jewellery and Chinese Works of arts sales took the Hong Kong total to £22m ($36m) up 25 per cent on 1998.
By category, the increases were higher still. Impressionist, 19th and 20th century and Contemporary works of art saw a 42 per cent rise globally from £149m ($245m) in 1998 to £211m ($341m) this year, with combined sales achieving an 87 per cent sold rate by value. Sales of 20th century art alone showed an increase of 59 per cent to £102m ($165m), benefiting from the additional works recategorised from the Contemporary section, with the single owner session of Important Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture from The Maurice and Margo Cohen Collection totalling £13.7m ($22.2m) with a 100 per cent sold rate; and Impressionist and 19th century art was 40 per cent up to £69m ($114m).
The trend was similar for Old Masters, up 26 per cent to £50m ($81m), the highlight being the New York sale of Velásquez’s Saint Rufina for a premium-inclusive £5.4m ($8.9m), a record for the artist and for any Spanish Old Master painting.
International sales of Asian art were up a comparatively modest five per cent to £30m ($48m), helped by a recovery in the Hong Kong market in April after the earlier Asian slump.
The Alexander Collection, which sold for £17m ($27.5m) at the Rockefeller Center – the highest total for a private collection of French furniture and decorative arts sold at auction – helped boost the European furniture section by 50 per cent to £60m ($97m), and American furniture and decorative arts also enjoyed a record-breaking season, realising £13.4m ($22m); the furniture was up 27 per cent and the decorative arts 10 per cent, the combined total breaking the department’s 1990 record. Here Edward Hicks’ Peaceable Kingdom set a world record for the artist at £2.86m ($4.73m).
Highlights for the second six months of the year will be led by the 100 per cent sold Rothschild Collection in London, but Christie’s also expect jewellery and important paintings from single owner collections to do particularly well. In addition, they predict an upturn for the recategorised Contemporary sector where they believe there is a fast-growing number of collectors.
• All prices mentioned are premium-inclusive, and percentage changes refer to the sterling figures.
Christie’s first six months up by nearly 20%
SINGLE OWNER collections and strong selectivity are the key factors behind the 19 per cent sterling increase in Christie’s worldwide auction turnover for the first six months of 1999, say the auctioneers.