This year saw some pretty mixed results in the auction arena. The categories that typically bring in the big bucks are the Contemporary & Post-War sales as well as the Impressionist & Modern sales… with 2019 coming to a close, let’s take a look back at the last 12 months and see how the big players held up to their 2018 levels.
Before we get underway, I need to point out that in 2018 we saw some unbelievable estates get auctioned off… the main one needing mention would be the Rockefeller estate which had a handful of sales throughout the year – they generated upwards of $800 million for Christie’s in 2018. There was also the Elbsworth collection sale that generated more than $300 million at Christie’s as well as the Mandel Collection at Sotheby’s which totaled more than $100 million. This year however, there were very few estate sales that bolstered the numbers for these markets. With that in mind, we should expect a bit of a dip across the board… the question is was it more than just a bit?
I went ahead and did a little bit of research so we can give an accurate comparison… we’ll be looking at the main auction houses (Sotheby’s and Christie’s) and further breaking that down to their most significant locations (New York, London, Hong Kong, and the EU).
With regard to the Impressionist & Modern arena, we saw a significant contraction. Both Sotheby’s and Christie’s saw similar totals on the year from their New York offerings… Sotheby’s generated $665M whereas Christie’s generated $670M in 2019. Those figures are down 45% and 55%, respectively, from the prior year’s totals which saw $1.2B and $1.48B pass through those same locations. The New York sales showed the greatest decline in the Impressionist & Modern market. Their London locations shared a similar fate, with annual sales diminishing from $368M to $293M at Sotheby’s and from $430M to $314M at Christie’s. Interestingly, we saw an increase in the totals achieved by auctions taking place in the EU, but I more so attribute that to a greater push by the auction houses to bring material to those venues rather than a change in the market for works in those locations. The Asian market appeared relatively stable with Sotheby’s Hong Kong dropping approximately 16% to $197.8M in 2019, while Christie’s Shanghai saw growth of 14% though that only results in a $17.69M total. The global sales from 2019 puts Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern auctions just over $1.337 billion and Christie’s just over $1.083 billion… that reflects a decrease of 30% at Sotheby’s and 46% at Christie’s, with a cumulative decline of approximately 38% year to year.
Bottom line: There was $1.5 billion less Impressionist & Modern art sold through Christie’s and Sotheby’s in 2019 v. 2018
Top 5 Impressionist & Modern Results from 2019
- Claude Monet – Meules – $110.7 million (Sotheby’s New York – May 2019)
- Paul Cézanne – Bouilloire et fruits – $59.2 million (Christie’s New York – May 2019)
- Pablo Picasso – Femme au Chien – $54.9 million (Sotheby’s New York – May 2019)
- Vincent van Gogh – Arbres dans le jardin de l’asile – $40 million (Christie’s New York – May 2019)
- Amadeo Modigliani – Tête – $34.3 million (Christie’s New York – May 2019)
Turning our attention to Contemporary works, we saw a contraction but far less dramatic. Again, the greatest decline was seen in the New York locations… Sotheby’s generated $831 million compared to Christie’s $1.07 billion. Those figures work out to a decrease of roughly 22% and 26% – Sotheby’s brought in $1.06 billion in 2018 and Christie’s brought in $1.44 billion. In line with the earlier results, the London locations were down from $476.1m to $353.2m at Sotheby’s, and from $427.2m to $400.6m at Christie’s; and the EU locations saw an uptick from $180.4m to $289.9m at Sotheby’s (61% increase) and $102.9 to $120.6m (17% increase). And again, the Asian markets were relatively stable… Sotheby’s Hong Kong saw growth of just 2% to $192M, and Christie’s Shanghai saw growth of 9% but it was a relatively small total of just $19.04M for the year. Overall, the numbers reflect a drop in the global total of Contemporary works sold through Sotheby’s and Christie’s… in 2019, Sotheby’s brought in $1.66 billion or 13% less than the year prior, while Christie’s brought in $1.75 billion or 12% less.
Bottom line: There was appx $500 million less Contemporary art sold through Christie’s and Sotheby’s in 2019 v. 2018
Top 5 Contemporary Results from 2019
- Jeff Koons – Rabbit – $91.07 million (Christie’s New York – May 2019)
- Robert Rauschenberg – Buffalo II – $88.8 million (Christie’s New York – May 2019)
- Andy Warhol – Double Elvis [Ferus Type] – $53 million (Christie’s New York – May 2019)
- Ed Ruscha – Hurting the Word Radio #2 – $52.4 million (Christie’s New York – November 2019)
- Francis Bacon – Study for a Head – $50.3 million (Sotheby’s New York – May 2019)