Christie's
Christie's reported its best result in five years.

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This was just behind Sotheby’s which reported an annual figure of $7.3bn (£5.5bn) for the year. This is the second year in a row that Sotheby's has edged ahead.

For Christie’s, its 2021 full year results saw sales jump 54% on 2020 and up 22% on 2019, driven by a boost in auctions, NFTs, new buyers and private sales.

Auction sales grew to $5.4bn while private sales reached $1.7bn.

Chief executive Guillaume Cerutti said it was “no surprise” that the results were among the best in a decade and that the auction house had sold the top two lots in the world at auction this year.

The top-two sales were Picasso’s Femme assise près d’une fenêtre (Marie-Therese) for a premium-inclusive $103.4m and Basquiat’s In This Case at a premium-inclusive $93.1m.

Christie's New York

Gemma Sudlow selling the Basquiat skull picture 'In This Case' for $81m ($93.1m including premium) on May 11 at Christie’s 20/21 sale in New York.

He also said sell-through rates were better than ever, running at an average of 87% (up from around 83%).

Cerutti added: “Beyond our auction and private sales results – which are exceptional, Christie’s has also made a breakthrough in new sales formats and categories, NFTs in particular. We have also made great progress in other priorities, with important investments in Asia and with our commitments to becoming carbon net zero by 2030.”

The growth in online-only and ‘hybrid’ sales, which are live but also streamed around the world, also helped its figures.

Nearly half of all of Christie’s auctions now take place online-only and 35% of its clients in 2021 were new to Christie’s, with almost two thirds of these entering via online sales. Of these new buyers, 32% of them were ‘millennials’. The advent of NFTs played a large part in the growth with more than 100 NFTs sold by Christie’s in 2021 totalling nearly $150m.

Although Christie’s is pleased with the online performance, it was keen to stress that the saleroom is still its heartland.

Christie's King Street

Christie's King Street.

Jussi Pylkannen, global president at Christie’s, said room bidding is as strong as it was before the pandemic and that bidders were excited to be back in the room in 2021.

However Adrien Meyer, co-chairman of Impressionist & Modern Art, admitted: “I do think we have a challenge to reinvent the auction room. We need to remain engaging to bring our clients here.”

Cerutti added: “We do everything we can to keep our clients happy and excited to be in the room. That is where we belong. We want people in the room and that is where the most exciting points happen. For example when the Caillebotte sold to the Getty in the room or in London with the Da Vinci bear – it sold to buyers in the room and they were so pleased to win.

“Those moments cannot be replicated online or on the phone. We have to continue to make our auctions exciting. We are still in the phase with the hybrid formats which are currently the best option, but we will continue to improve and adapt.”

Caillebotte

'Jeune homme à sa fenêtre' by Gustave Caillebotte – a record $46m (£34.3m) at Christie’s.

Other areas of growth for the auction house was the demand for luxury goods and the continued growth of sales in Asia.

Christie's is opening new salerooms and offices in Hong Kong and Beijing in the next two years and Asian buyers contributed a total of $1.68bn of sales in 2021 which is up 32% on 2019.

Christie’s in numbers (2021):

  • Total sales: $7.1bn (£5.2bn)
  • Auction sales:  $5.4bn
  • Private sales: $1.7bn
  • 50% of Christie’s auctions now take place online

Read about Sotheby's 2021 sales figures.