Christie's King Street in London. Global sales for the auction house increased 26% in 2017 to £5.1bn.

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Global sales increased 26% in 2017 to £5.1bn (or $6.6bn, up 21%), led by the most expensive artwork ever sold – the Salvator Mundi for a premium-inclusive $450.3m (£342.2m) in November in New York.

Other top lots included Constantin Brancusi’s La muse endormie, sold for a hammer price of $51m (£39.5m), and Vincent van Gogh’s Laboureur dans un champ, which made a hammer price of $72m (£55m).

Van Gogh

This Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) oil on canvas ‘Laboureur dans un champ’ was hammered down at $72m at Christie's. It was painted in Saint Rémy in early September 1889.

In sterling terms, the annual sales results were equal best with the 2014 result, and in US dollar terms, were the fourth best in Christie’s history.

Sales in Asia soared 39% to represent 31% of global spend while the US jumped 68% to £2.5bn, which is 32% of Christie’s global sales. Sales in Europe and the Middle East were up 16% to £1.5bn, making up 37% of the sales at the auction house.

Guillaume Cerutti, Christie’s chief executive officer, said 2017 was a year to remember, not just because of the Salvator Mundi sale but because “of the decisive action” the company took “to prepare for the future” such as its decision to close Christie’s South Kensington in London in July.

Orlando Rock, chairman of Christie's UK, said: “We made very tough decisions last year that were very painful. But we have taken a conscious decision to sell fewer lots, that are better chosen with higher sell-through rates. It is easy for the masterpieces to steal the headlines but the real story is the strong sell-through rates at all levels.”

Cerutti said 2018 had begun well with a number of significant upcoming sales, including the Rockefeller collection which is expected to be the highest-value single-owner collection at auction.

Rival auction house Sotheby’s reported annual sales of $4.7bn in 2017, up 13.1% on 2016.

Christie’s full-year results in numbers:

  • 26% increase in global sales to £5.1bn
  • 38% increase in auction sales to £4.6bn
  • 31% of buyers new to Christie’s
  • 12% rise in online-only sales to £55.9m
  • 2.8% increase in total digital (all sales made online) sales to £165.6m
  • £472.4m in private sales, down 32%

 For more on the results see next week’s issue.