The majority of the Christie’s total, at $6.2 billion, came from impressionist, modern and contemporary art, which improved by 21 per cent. Contained within this figure was the highest-ever total for a single-owner collection, the $1.6 billion Paul G Allen Collection, in which record prices of more than $100 million each were paid for paintings by Seurat, Cézanne, van Gogh, Gauguin and Klimt. Geographically, the Americas improved most, with a 73 per cent increase; the weakest results came in Asia where, affected by Covid and travel restrictions, sales fell by 20 per cent.
At third-placed Phillips, in announcing record sales of $1.3 billion, chief executive Stephen Brooks said the company was “going through an extraordinary period of growth”, and cited their sale of a large untitled painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat for $85 million. The work was being sold by Japanese e-commerce billionaire, Yusaku Maezawa, who had paid $57 million for it in 2016.
But beneath the surface, Phillips’ results were less turbocharged. The sales total was only an eight per cent increase on 2021, and in Asia, where it has invested heavily, sales actually fell by 38 per cent, echoing the trend at Christie’s. This must be a concern. Nearly a third of its 2022 buyers were Asian, 40 per cent of whom were millennials: about 10 per cent of these are focused on contemporary art – Phillips’ highest-profile department – enough to affect the progress of an extremely speculative market.
Not far behind the field is Bonhams, which will reveal this week that it closed the gap on Phillips, with a 27 per cent uptick from $817 million dollars in 2021 to just over $1 billion of sales. Last year, the company acquired three auction houses in Europe and one in America. The battle for first place usually attracts most attention – but who will come third in 2023?
The artists setting the sales agenda for 2023
The Old Master market is often written off on account of its shortage of masterpieces for sale, but it still attracts interest. Last year, in its classic sales department (headed by Old Masters), Christie’s recorded an impressive 37 per cent increase in turnover worldwide. Individual discoveries of note, meanwhile, included a Chardin still life of strawberries (€24.4 million, or £21.6 million), and a record €23.2 million for what is thought to be the first male nude drawing by Michelangelo – both in Paris, at Artcurial and Christie’s respectively.
This month, New York will up the tempo, with two major offerings: an early Rubens ($25-35 million at Sotheby’s) from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art trustee Mark Fisch and his estranged wife, Rachel Davidson; and a recently rediscovered portrait by the 16th-century Mannerist, Bronzino, at Christie’s with a $3-5 million estimate – more than enough to ensure that Old Masters stay in the frame.
In the modern sector, the vogue for Surrealism is blossoming with a clutch of specialised sales, starting at Christie’s in London on February 28, followed by Sotheby’s and Bonhams in Paris. Female artists will continue to attract a spotlight, too, with Sotheby’s going hell for leather in February and March, staging separate auctions for female artists and designers, plus a selling exhibition to mark International Women’s Day on March 8.