Christie’s Experimental Partnership With the Biennale Paris Fair Bombs With Less Than a Quarter of the Works Sold

The new online event reaped just $1.7 million in sales.

Virgin and Child with a Parrot ( early 16th century). Image courtesy of Galerie De Jonckheere

Old art-business rivalries, like those between dealers and auction houses, have crumbled in recent months as industry players turn to new models of support and collaboration amid the ongoing shutdown. But clearly there are still some growing pains.

Organizers of the prestigious art and antiques fair La Biennale Paris teamed up with Christie’s auction house to take the annual event online this year. But the dismal results underscore the shakiness of the partnership, as well as the limitations of virtual events.

The fair, usually held at the Grand Palais, has been a highlight in Paris since its launch, in 1956, by Pierre Vandermeersch, the former chairman of France’s antique-dealer trade group Syndicat National des Antiquaires. This year, 42 art galleries, most which are members of the Syndicat, consigned just over 90 lots to the online edition, which ran from September 24 to October 8. There were also simultaneous presentations of the works at the respective galleries.

By the end of the two-week run, just 21 of the works, or 23 percent, had sold. The total reported sales of €1.47 million ($1.7 million) is just a fraction of the posted presale expectations of €7 million to €10 million.

Still, executives have been trying to put a brave face on things. “The results of this initiative must be judged beyond the purely financial dimension,” said Christie’s CEO Guillaume Cerutti in a statement. “The highlighting of the merchants’ work, the collaboration with a major trade fair, the positive feedback from our customers and market observers, are matters of great satisfaction for Christie’s and encourage us to continue on this path.”

Cerutti previously told Artnet News that the auction house had been striving to strike a balance with La Biennale dealers, who tended to push for higher prices while Christie’s advocated keeping estimates more attractive to sellers. “Meeting in the middle is not always easy,” he said.

Pieter Brueghel, <i> Le Jeune</i> Image courtesy Florence de Voldère

Pieter Brueghel, Le Jeune. Image courtesy Florence de Voldère.

Among the lots sold was the painting Virgin and Child with a Parrot by an unknown artist in the early 16th century, which Geneva’s Galerie De Jonckheere sold to the Granet Museum in Aix-en-Provence for €150,000 ($177,000). Meanwhile, Galerie Florence de Voldère sold Pieter Brueghel’s Le Jeune for €250,000 ($295,000); Galerie Mitterrand sold Claude Lalanne’s Le Candélabre for €137,500 ($162,000); and Iskenderian gallery sold a diamond necklace that converts into a tiara for €37,500 ($44,000).

La Biennale president Georges de Jonckheere thanked Christie’s for its commitment, calling the collaboration an “unprecedented project.” He added: “This daring sale has given us strong international visibility as well as an enhancement of our businesses, which is essential in such a terrible context for our profession. I am certain that this visibility will further strengthen our momentum for the next edition.”


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