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The United States accounted for 49 per cent of the market, taking £761.29m, an increase of three per cent on its performance for the previous year. The UK share – by far the second largest – was 28 per cent at £436.53m, a year-on-year rise of two per cent. France came next with a six per cent share of the market at £96m, but this was a seven per cent rise for the country year on year, a significant increase that could be explained by the anticipated auction law reform, says Art Sales Index managing director Duncan Hislop.

Total value for the art auction market worldwide was £1.55bn ($2.53bn).
The international market, which peaked in 1989/90, when sales reached $4.5bn before slumping by two thirds the following year with the world recession, has seen a steady increase since the early 1990s, recovering to just over half of the 1989/90 high.

Economic downturns are still closely reflected, however, with Hong Kong (-10.35 per cent), Singapore (-18.26 per cent) and Taiwan (-50.71 per cent) showing large drops in turnover year on year following the decline in Far Eastern prosperity.

The Art Sales Index noted that 45 per cent of entries from the 3000 auctions it covered worldwide sold for between $1000 and $5000 (40 per cent between £1000 and £5000); 151 pictures sold for more than £1m; the most expensive auction was the collection of Mr and Mrs John Hay Whitney at Sotheby’s New York in May 1999, which totalled $116m; and the top selling artist was Picasso, with 826 lots totalling $116m.

Included in the worldwide analysis are oil paintings, watercolours, drawings, miniatures, prints and sculpture sold at public auction around the world from August 1998 to August 1999.

The new Art Sales Index report is online at www.art-sales-index.com. Hard copies can be ordered by phoning (0)1344 841750 or writing to 16 Luddington Avenue, Virginia Water, Surrey GU25 4DF.