Art Market Data: Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art Market Share Collapses As Sotheby’s Grows

Christie's continues to slide, while Sotheby's is on the rise.


Totals of London evening Impressionist sales in the last four seasons.
Source: artnet Analytics


Impressionist sales at Christie’s and Sotheby’s in London this past week featured the usual handful of headline-grabbing prices—a £25 million ($39 million) Gustav Klimt and a £21 million ($34 million) Kazimir Malevich among them. But it appears that fewer and fewer of those sales are taking place at Christie’s.

While both the Klimt and the Malevich were sold at Sotheby’s, Christie’s highest figure was the £10.8 million ($17 million) paid for a Claude Monet painting, Iris Mauves (1914–1917).

Having dominated the Postwar and contemporary realm in recent seasons with jaw-dropping totals for evening sales—such as this past fall’s $852.9 million auction in New York—Christie’s London Impressionist and modern art market share continues to decline, while Sotheby’s is on the rise.

Christie’s June 23 London evening sale of Impressionist art pulled in £71.5 million (about $113 million), its lowest total in the past four years. In comparison, the evening sale total was $222 million in February 2015, $146 million in June 2014, and $288 million in February 2014.

Sotheby’s totals, on the other hand, have been climbing. Its June 24 evening sale brought in £178.6 million ($282 million), its highest in the past four seasons. The comparable evening total this past February was $280 million, $207 million in June 2014, and $266 million in February 2014.

Combined Christie's and Sotheby's evening sale totals for the last four London seasons. Source: artnet Analytics

Combined Christie’s and Sotheby’s London evening Impressionist sale totals for the last four seasons.
Source: artnet Analytics

Overall combined Impressionist totals at both houses have also, on the whole, been trending downward. This past week’s evening sales in London totaled $395 million. This was down from $502.9 million this past February; but higher than the sales of a year ago in June, which totaled $353.8 million. In February 2014, when both houses also offered a number of works of Surrealist art, the total, buoyed by the additional selection, reached $554.8 million.

This past spring, Christie’s shook up the entire auction schedule by pushing back its New York evening Impressionist sale to the far end of the the two-week season and mounting an additional hybrid Impressionist and contemporary sale smack in the middle of the season. Some observers said this move—which did not even come with a formal announcement—was done in an effort to take the focus off a less-than-stellar Impressionist offering.

The fact that its specially-themed auction “Looking Forward to the Past,” boasted Picasso’s Les Femme d’Algers (Version “O”), 1955, which sold for $179.4 million and is now by far the most expensive painting ever sold at auction, certainly diverted some attention away from the dedicated evening Impressionist sale held later that week.

Looking at the New York Imp Mod sales this past season on the whole, their Impressionist market share appeared stronger than it had in recent years. The standard evening Impressionist sale at Christie’s on May 14 realized $202 million. Granted, if you include figures from the Impressionist portion of the Looking Forward sale, which held the prized Picasso, (and which might have, in prior years been sold off in the Imp Mod sale), you would have added $492.9 million to that number (the Picasso alone brought in $179.4 million).

Prior to this bump, evening sales in the previous seasons brought in $165 million in November 2014, $285.9 million in May 2014, and $144.3 million in November 2013.

Comparable evening Impressionist sale totals at Sotheby’s were $368.3 million in May 2015, $422 million in November 2014, $219 million in May 2014, and $290.2 million in November 2013.

The London contemporary sale series is already underway with Phillips holding its evening contemporary sale Monday, followed by Christie’s evening sale on June 30, and Sotheby’s evening sale on July 1.

For related coverage see:

$39 Million Klimt Leads Sotheby’s $280M Impressionist Sale

Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Sale Reaches $113 Million Despite the Odds

Is Christie’s Abandoning the Impressionist Market



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