The Back Room: Single-Owner Sales Lose Steam

Surveying this year’s single-owner sales, the thrill-kill of guarantees, a record-setting Salvo, and much more.

Auctioneer Oliver Barker coaxing bids from the rostrum at Sotheby's on May 16. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Every Friday, Artnet News Pro members get exclusive access to the Back Room, our lively recap funneling only the week’s must-know intel into a nimble read you’ll actually enjoy. 


Top of the Market
A Collection of Collections

After 2022’s bevy of individual collections arriving at auction, single-owner sales have proven slightly less splashy but remain a helpful safety net for the broader art market in 2023.

Sales of individual collections have brought in a combined total of just over $1.2 billion in 2023 as of November 27, according to the Artnet Price Database (all figures including fees unless otherwise noted). That includes the collections of: S.I. Newhouse, Gerald Fineberg, Sophie Danforth, Alan and Dorothy Press, and the last of the Paul Allen lots at Christie’s New York, all of which came to auction in May; the Sotheby’s New York sale of the Mo Ostin collection in May; the Emily Fisher Landau and Chara Schreyer sales in November; and the Triton Foundation collection at Phillips New York in November.

These troves offered a satisfactory serving of high-quality works, but we broke down the numbers to bitesize bits to get a sense of how this year’s single-owner sales stack up overall:

 Year on year, the total value of 2023’s single-owner sales to date represents a 54-percent decrease from 2022. Notable single-owner sales from 2022 totalled $2.6 billion, although that sum was heavily bolstered by the billion-plus Paul Allen collection.

 Sotheby’s netted $608.4 million across the noted 2023 sales, and obviously that total consists mostly of Emily Fisher Landau sale lots. Meanwhile, Christie’s brought in $539.3 million. The top five single-owner sales by value include:

  • Emily Fisher Landau Collection (Sotheby’s), $424.7 million across 111 lots
  • Gerald Fineberg Collection (Christie’s), $197.1 million across 203 lots
  • S.I. Newhouse Collection (Christie’s), $177.7 million across 16 lots
  • Mo Ostin Collection (Sotheby’s), $123.7 million across 14 lots
  • The last of the Paul Allen collection (Christie’s), $88.8 million across 7 lots

– Roughly 34 percent of the $1.2 billion total can be attributed to the Emily Fisher Landau collection sale. And around a third of the figure from it is the result of a single lot, Picasso’s Femme à la montre (1932), which sold for $136.4 million.

It’s no surprise that the two heavyweight houses dominated the scoreboard, but by our calculations, 2023 marks the first time Phillips came close to placing among the top five single-owner sales, with the $84.7 million Triton sale. (Nevertheless, the sale came in sixth by total value sold.)

Also included in our $1.2 billion calculation is the Freddie Mercury series of sales at Sotheby’s London in September which, although bringing in a comparatively low $7.6 million across five events, deserves an honorable mention for its popularity—the collection’s exhibition in London saw throngs of visitors queuing on New Bond Street to get into the auction house.

Nonetheless, the financial success of the single-owner sales this year rests heavily on the Fisher Landau Picasso, while auction seasons’ overall success increasingly relies on single-owner collections. That could prove a heavy burden for the single-owner segment as we look ahead to 2024.

The promise of high-profile provenance has been enough to at least secure adequate guarantees for works from individual collections, meaning a sure sale in an unsure buying climate. Worth noting is the fact that most if not all works on offer in the individual collections brought to market this year were guaranteed by a third-party and/or house guarantee. As Simon de Pury points out in his Artnet News column “The Hammer” this week: “the issue is no longer if something will sell, but rather if the work will go to the third party guarantor or to another collector.”

And to that point, fewer collectors are vying for blue-chip works from the individual collections. Many high-value lots in the recent spate of single-owner sales sold for at or around their low estimates, suggesting they went to their guarantor or at least didn’t incite many unexpected buyers to bid. Financial Times columnist Melanie Gerlis posits that this has to do with changing tastes—younger generations of buyers may not be vibing with the postwar stockpiles that are surfacing from Boomer collector estates.

The Bottom Line

Just like a table full of canapés won’t fill you up the way a seated dinner will, a buffet of single-owner sales this year may not be able to sate an already lean market, especially after the feast that was the record-setting $1.6 billion Paul G. Allen collection at Christie’s in 2022. Moreover, changing tastes may mean auction houses need to rework their menus.

Paint Drippings

The latest Wet Paint was still being mixed at press time, but here’s what else made a mark around the industry since last Friday morning…

Art Fairs

 Frieze Los Angeles will return to its Santa Monica Airport venue for the second year next February. However, the fair has scrapped the Barker Hangar section and will instead expand its main site to host around 100 galleries and more outdoor installations and performances. (Press release)

– TEFAF Maastricht has named the exhibitors for its March 2024 edition in the Netherlands, which includes Sean KellyDavid Gill GalleryTina Kim GalleryGalerie Kevorkian, and Tim Van Laere, among others. (Press release)

– The Association of International Photography Art Dealers (AIPAD) has announced its 43rd edition under their new president, Martijn van Pieterson, which is set to take place at the Park Avenue Armory next April. (Press release)

 Last week, Bogotá hosted the contemporary art fair Artbo, which shone a light on contemporary Colombian art. (Artnet News)

Auction Houses

– Christie’s hosted its 20th and 21st century art evening sale in Hong Kong this week, which netted HK$694 million ($89 million). It was led by Sanyu’s Femme nue sur un tapis (Nude on Tapestry) which sold for HK$187 million ($24 million), setting a new record for the artist’s work. (Artnet News)

– Sotheby’s is letting go of about half of the space at its longtime headquarters in Manhattan amid a strategic transformation of its real estate footprint. (Artnet News)

– Speaking of whom, next month Sotheby’s is set to bring a still life by the Flemish painter Clara Peete up to the auction block on a high estimate of £700,000, or about $880,000. The piece has remained in private hands for the last century. (The Guardian)


 Two joint representation ventures have been announced this week: Hauser & Wirth is teaming up with Nicola Vassel to jointly represent Uman, and Berry Campbell Partners is joining White Cube in their representation of the Lynne Drexler archive. (Press releases)

– Templon has clinched the US representation of Hans Op de BeeckAlmine Rech has added Tia-Thuy Ngyuen to their artist list, Carlos Bunga will join Nara Roesler, Pippy Houldsworth Gallery has taken over the representation of Judith Godwin’s estate in Europe, Eva Gold has joined Rose Easton’s artist list, Jessica Silverman added Beverly Fishman to its roster, and Harkawik has added Savannah Claudia Levin to theirs. (Press releases)

 London’s Emalin is to open their second gallery in the city’s Shoreditch neighborhood.  (Press release)

Institutions & Biennials

– Paris‘s Centre Pompidou and Shanghai‘s West Bund Museum have renewed their contract as partnered museums for another five years. (Press release)

– Employees of the Buffalo AKG Museum have moved to unionize, and officially submitted a letter of demands to director Janne Sirén earlier this month. (ARTnews)

– British prime minister Rishi Sunak abruptly canceled a meeting with Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis after Mitsotakis made a comment about the Parthenon marbles, which are controversially held in the British Museum’s collection. Mitsotakis said keeping the marbles in Britain was akin to cutting the Mona Lisa in half, reigniting a longstanding restitution feud between the two nations. (Artnet News)

– Danielle A. JacksonLiz Park, and Ryan Inouye have been announced as the curators of the 59th Carnegie International. Organized every four years by the Carnegie Museum of Art, the next edition of the survey will open in May 2026.

“It’s an auction. Can’t wait forever.”

Georgina Hilton during Christie’s 20th/21st Century Art Evening Sale in Hong Kong, when even the experienced and adept auctioneer couldn’t perk up the pace of back to back sales. (Artnet News)

Work of the Week
Salvo’s Il Mattino (The Morning)

Salvo, <i>Il Mattino (The Morning)</i> (1994). Courtesy of Christie's.

Salvo, Il Mattino (The Morning) (1994). Courtesy of Christie’s.

Date: 1994

Estimate: HK$1.8 million to HK$2.8 million ($231,582 to $360,239)

Sale price: HK$8.7 million ($1.1 million)

 Selling at: Christie’s Hong Kong

 Sale date: November 28, 2023

Salvo’s star has been on the ascendent with nine out of the top 10 auction records for the late Italian artist set in the first 10 months of 2023, according to Artnet’s Price Database. His colorful and geometric landscape paintings have been attracting an increasing amount of attention on the international stage this year, including a solo show at Perrotin Paris in May and a joint booth presentation by Mazzoleni and Kukje at October’s Frieze Masters in London. Some art advisors have noted the similarities between Salvo’s paintings and those of market darling Nicholas Party, which may have helped the Italian painter reach a new demographic of buyer recently.

At Christie’s Hong Kong 20th/21st Century Art Evening Sale on Tuesday, his 1994 painting Il Mattino (The Morning) sold for $1.1 million (including fees), marking the first time a Salvo work hit the million-dollar mark at auction. After a 10-minute bidding war, the lot hammered at HK$6.9 million ($889,845)—nearly four times the presale low estimate and besting the recently set record of $841,019 for a 1991 landscape sold at Christie’s London in October. The very same painting last appeared at auction in 2009 at a Sotheby’s Milan sale, where it sold for €84,750 ($115,620). This means Tuesday’s sale yielded 10 times its previous auction price.

—Vivienne Chow


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