Sales totals for the year 2021 released by several French auction firms and French branches of international auction houses show a considerable increase over those recorded for 2020 and, for some, an increase over those for the pre-pandemic 2019.
In what it described as an “historic year”, Sotheby’s France chalked up a total of €424m for its public auctions in 2021, representing a 145% increase over the €173m recorded for 2020 and 19.6% by comparison to 2019. Private sales also rose to nearly €76m, an increase of 54% compared to 2020.
In terms of individual prices, 52 lots made €1m or more, headed by the €13.09m (€11.25m/£9.7m hammer) paid for Vincent van Gogh’s Scene de rue à Montmartre which was sold in March in association with the auction firm Mirabaud Mercier. With regard to individual departments, there were strong results for Contemporary art which achieved a total of €89.5m and Impressionist and Modern art which totalled €107.6m. The Design department realised a total of €128.7m.
In November the single-owner sale of works by Claude and François-Xavier Lalanne from the collection of their daughter Dorothée realised a total of €81m.
Christie’s France, which held 54 auctions in 2021, 15 of them online, recorded sales of €420.7m for last year. (The figure includes the premium-inclusive €11.6m realised by the Einstein Besso manuscript which was sold at the Exceptional sale in collaboration with Aguttes under the hammer of a partner, Commissaire Priseur Judiciare.)
This represents an 88% increase over the €224.2m totalled by sales in 2020 and a 63% increase over sales in 2019 making it, says Christie’s, the second-best auction result for Christie’s France since its creation 20 years ago.
The highest total for an individual auction was the €66m raised by the Michel Perinet sale, an auction record for a collection of African and Oceanic art. The highest individual price was the €14.55m (€12.5m/£10.68m hammer) realised by René Magritte’s oil painting La Vengeance in the sale of the Francis Gross collection in June.
Fifty-five lots sold for a million euros or more, compared to 27 in 2020. Around 51% of lots were sold online for a total value of €44.4m, representing 105% more than in 2020 and 279% more than the previous year. The volume of private sales initiated in France also increased by 32% over 2020.
The French firms
French auction house Artcurial, which held 104 auctions last year with 26 that were online only, recorded sales of €169m for 2021, an increase of 13% over the €149.2m for 2020 (this figure includes charity sales and estimations for 2021 sales that were still to take place). The auction house reported a 38% increase in volume of sales over the internet.
Drouot presented its figures in a different way this year. It released a sales figure for the entire Drouot Group of €523m, which represents the total product of physical auctions taking place at the Drouot auction centre plus the Live product (Groupe Drouot’s online bidding platform) for physical sales that took place outside Drouot and online-only sales (excluding industrial equipment).
The sales total for the 734 physical auctions organised by the 62 auction firms that operated at Drouot in 2021 was €333m. This compares to a figure of €205m for the 473 auctions at the Drouot centre in 2020.
Heading the list of the 20 top lots at €6.65m (€5.5m/£4.7m hammer) was Big John, the triceratops dinosaur skeleton sold by Binoche et Giquello in October last year. Among other French auction houses reporting their results, Aguttes recorded a sales total of €77.5m, representing a 64% increase over 2020 and a 17% increase over 2019.
Osenat, which held 89 auctions across four salerooms in Fontainebleau, Versailles and Chailly en Bière, recorded sales of €36.5m, an increase of 49.66% over 2020.
Ader, which held 90 sales in 2021, realised €40m, a 25% increase over its total for the previous year.
The Ivoire group of 11 auction firms across the French regions reported a sales total of €60m. This represents a 26% increase over the previous year and, notes Ivoire, was achieved without any million-euro results for individual lots.
All sales totals quoted above are premium inclusive.