Sotheby's and Christie's vied for top spot, with Sotheby's posting total sales of €175m (£151m) to Christie's €176.5m (£152m). Sotheby's, however, had more cause for satisfaction: their figure was comfortably their best ever in France, and reflected a rise of 78% over 2009.
Christie's – whose 2009 total was boosted by the blockbuster Pierre Bergé/ Yves Saint Laurent sale – registered a fall of 230%, and their €176.5m total was lower than in 2006 and 2007. If the Bergé/Saint Laurent sale is disregarded, Christie's sales rose 56%, largely due to a single work: the Modigliani head which posted €37.6m, the highest-ever price for any artwork at auction in France.
At each firm, the value selling rate was around 88%, while both firms saw over 60% of lots head abroad. Sotheby's reported that 35% of lots sold in Paris had a foreign provenance; and that new buyers accounted for 28% of sales.
Online bidding gained ground, with Christie's Paris registering sales of €3.3m (£2.85m) over the internet on Christie's Live, up 65% on 2009. Artcurial reported internet sales of €1.5m (£1.3m) in the second half of the year, after launching their own online bidding service in June. Two-thirds of their registered bidders were based abroad.
In terms of overall sales, Artcurial comfortably retained the Paris number three spot with a turnover of €102.8m (£89m), up 28%, thanks largely to the 20th (and 21st) century sectors of the market. Their sales of contemporary art doubled to €20.6m; those of Design climbed 92% to €6m; and the firm remained world leader for comic strip auctions, with sales of €7.1m (up 15%).
Sales at Drouot climbed just 6.5% to €440m (£379m), with nine prices over €1m (compared to 31 at the city's three major firms combined). Drouot's relatively sluggish growth confirmed both a trend now apparent for several years, and the impact of the Cols Rouges crisis that saw the firm's longstanding in-house porter association disbanded after charges of trafficking stolen estate consignments.
Drouot's figure would have been worse but for a spectacular upturn of its leading individual firm, Piasa, after their first full year in the ownership of a private consortium. Boosted by Drouot's highest price of the year, €5.55m for a Yongzheng Imperial vase, Piasa's sales of €45m (£38.8m) were up 38% on 2009, distancing longstanding rivals Tajan, whose Paris sales of €31m (£26.6m) were complemented by €8.2m from sales in Monaco.
Small-scale Drouot stalwarts Beaussant-Lefèvre continued to register an astonishingly low volume buy-in rate (just 9%), but their sales total of €20.5m (£17.7m) was up just 4% on 2009. Their average price per lot sold, €1900, was 20 times lower than Sotheby's (€40,000).
Sales at Pierre Bergé & Associés were down slightly at €46m (£39.7m), split between Drouot (€25m) and Belgium, where the firm remain market leaders (€21m). PBA also claimed to be continental leaders for sales of Design (€8.9m) and Antiquities (€4.7m).
Aguttes saw total sales from their three venues (Drouot, suburban Neuilly, and Lyon) climb 14% to €33.5m (£28.9m). The nationwide grouping Ivoire, comprising 14 firms across the country, also saw combined sales rise by 14%, to €91.6m (£79m).
Meanwhile Drouot newcomers Europ Enchères, in their first full year, totalled €12.5m (£10.8m), bolstered by the highest furniture price obtained by a French firm: €1.49m for a pair of Louis XVI cabinets by Etienne Levasseur. Sign of Drouot's troubled times? The cabinets were sold not in Paris, but in Geneva.
By Simon Hewitt
NB: All figures include buyer's premium