Christie’s Global Sales Fall Five Percent Despite New Records

Postwar and private sales take a tumble.

Lucian Freud, Head of Esther (1983). Photo: courtesy Christie's.
Amedeo Modigliani, Nu couché, 1917–18. Courtesy Christie's New York.

Amedeo Modigliani, Nu Couché, 1917–18.
Courtesy Christie’s New York.

Amid a year that saw auction prices reach new highs—including Amedeo Modigliani’s painting Nu Couché, which sold for $170.4 million—Christie’s reported a somewhat surprising five percent decline in total sales for 2015, to £4.8 billion, or $7.4 billion (the reported percentage drop is based on British pounds).

However, it’s virtually impossible to extrapolate profitability from the auction house’s numbers given that they are privately held and not subject to detailed quarterly financial reporting.

According to its statement, Christie’s said Impressionist and modern art, which now includes modern British art, American paintings, and Latin American paintings, grew by 47 percent, to $2 billion.

Despite the current hype, the auction house reported that postwar and contemporary sales dropped 20 percent, to $2.2 billion. Mean global sales of Asian art were up 2 percent, to $734.2 million.

Other categories where Christie’s saw declines included Old Master paintings, 19th-century and Russian art (down 41 percent to to $237.6 million), and private sales (down 43 percent to $851.2 million), which is, as the auction house explains, “principally because of vendor’s decisions to sell works through the public market.”

Christies-EGON SCHIELE (1890-1918) - Selbstbildnis mit gespreizten Fingern

Egon Schiele Selbstbildnis mit gespreizten Finger (1909)
Image: Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd.

The shakeup of auction categories and calendars—in an effort to capitalize on crossover buying—will continue this year. Christie’s said the new sales calendar in 2016 will begin with “20th-Century at Christie’s,” a series of sales in London from February 2–12, led by an Egon Schiele Self-Portrait (estimate: $8.6–11 million), and Francis Bacon’s Two Figures (estimate: $7.1–10 million).

Christie's-Francis Bacon (1909-1992)

Francis Bacon Two Figures (1975)
Image: Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd.

In April, the auction house will hold a new week of themed sales, dubbed Classic Art Week. It will include Old Master paintings, Japanese and Korean art, sculpture, antiquities, a sale of decorative arts. A new curated sale, titled Revolutions, will be the centerpiece.

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