The privately-owned auctioneers said a “challenging consignment pipeline” accounted for a cooling market but maintained “the global appetite for art remains strong”.
“Despite the uncertainty in wider economic and political environments, the art market maintained momentum,” commented Christie’s CEO Guillaume Cerutti. Sell-through rates were strong averaging 79% by lot across all auctions.
A break-down of the headline figure shows auction sales, which totalled £3.3bn, fell by 22% in 2016. The firm recorded four of the top five lots sold across the year including both Claude Monet’s record-breaking Grainstack oil and Willem de Kooning’s Untitled XXV, sold in New York for $81.4m and $66.3m respectively.
However, with less money spent on price guarantees, in the Brexit referendum and US election year owners of the world’s most expensive art were sometimes reluctant to test the deepest water. In 2015 the saleroom had sold more top-rank modern and contemporary works including Picasso's Les Femmes d'Alger (Version O) at $179.4m, a record for any work of art sold at auction.
At the end of the year Brett Gorvy, Christie’s senior business-getter of Post-War and Contemporary art, departed after 23 years to work with the private dealer Dominique Lévy.
The firm’s biggest single transaction in 2016 was a private deal – the Rembrandt van Rijn’s Portraits of Maerten Soolmans and his wife Oopjen Coppit acquired for E160m in a joint acquisition by the Louvre & the Rijksmuseum. Private sales continue to grow, showing an increase of 25% to £694m.
New Offices And Galleries
In 2016, its 250th anniversary year, Christie’s launched a new office on Jinbao in Beijing and the firm has said it is targeting the spring for the opening of a new gallery in Los Angeles.
North America remains the key market for Christie’s. Geographically, American based clients accounted for 37% of sales value with 39% of new buyers coming from the continent. Significant growth was also observed in Asia (accounting for 31% or sales and 19% of new buyers).
Much of Christie’s new audience came via the internet and the firm’s growing roster of online-only sales. Christie’s online sales rose by 109% to £49.8m with the average selling price now at close to £5000 and sell through rates by value averaging 91%.
Christie’s, owned by French luxury retailer and art collector François Pinault, only report sales and give no indication of profit or loss. Auction sales were also down in 2016 at Sotheby’s. Although the rival (publically-listed) house is not expected to release its equivalent statistics in full until the end of the month, sales are expected to run at around $4.1bn, a fall of close to one third.