Art Market Report Points to Banner Year for Sales

UK Auctions at Christie's and Sotheby's fuel uptick in the global auction market.

Francis Bacon's Portrait of George Dyer Talking (1966) sold for $70 million at Christie's London in February. Strong UK sales fueled significant growth in the international auction market for the first quarter of the year. Photo: Courtesy Christie's Images Ltd. 2014

The auction market was off to a strong start in 2014, particularly in the UK, according to data to be released tomorrow by artnet. The second and fourth quarters of each year, when the major New York spring and fall auctions take place, are typically the strongest for major international houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s because these are typically the largest sales of the year by volume.

However, UK sales in February of Impressionist, modern, and contemporary art were even stronger than last year’s. The global fine art market increased 37 percent by value sold, jumping from $1.6 billion in the year-ago first quarter to $2.2. billion in the first quarter of this year, according to the report. “The increase was in large part due to an extremely successful Q1 in the United Kingdom, with auctions alone bringing in an additional $400 million in the first quarter,” according to artnet’s findings.

“The individual successes of Christie’s and Sotheby’s were instrumental in the overall growth of the market,” according to the data. Christie’s London was up 52 percent, while Sotheby’s London was up 45 percent, judging by value of the works sold in the first quarter. Both houses increased the number of special auctions held in February, including “Eyes Wide Open,” a successful sale of Italian art at Christie’s that set 13 new artist records, and the A.J. Thompson Collection, a private collection sale consisting of just 15 works by L.S. Lowry that realized more than $25 million.

Several countries in the Eurozone also saw promising signs of growth in the quarter: Value was up relative to the 2013 first quarter in France (45 percent), Belgium (11 percent), Germany  (8 percent), and Switzerland (5 percent). In the US however, “following a year of constant growth, 2014 began rather slowly . . . with the market down 7 percent by value from the first quarter of 2013.” And “the Chinese art market was also off to a slow start, down 22 percent by value from last year.”

Gerhard Richter Wand (Wall) (1994) oil on canvas, sold for $28.6 million. Photo: Courtesy Sotheby's

Gerhard Richter, Wand (Wall) (1994) oil on canvas, sold for $28.6 million. Photo: Courtesy Sotheby’s.

Not surprisingly, the top five works at auction for the year to date were part of the aforementioned sales, including the most expensive, Francis Bacon’s Portrait of George Dyer Talking (1966), which took $70 million at Christie’s in February. The highest prices were not limited to a single category; they spread across contemporary, modern and Impressionist sectors.

The report also ranks the top 10 artists in the first quarter by value of their works sold at auction. They include the predictably blue-chip mainstays as well as a sprinkling of lesser-known Chinese artists: Andy Warhol ($112.7 million); Francis Bacon ($75.8 million); Gerhard Richter ($75.2 million); Juan Gris ($57.5 million); Camille Pissarro ($39 million); Qi Baishi ($37.4 million); Wu Changshuo ($37.2 million); Rene Magritte ($35.7 million); Fernand Léger ($35.5 million); and Cy Twombly ($34.3 million).

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