China overtakes Britain as second biggest art market

China overtook Britain as the world's second biggest market for art and antiques last year, said a report from the European Fine Art Fair (Tefaf) opening in the Netherlands Thursday.

The United States continued to dominate the international market with a share of 34 percent, said the report from European Fine Art Foundation, organisers of what claims to be the world's leading art and antiques fair.

"China became the world's second largest art market in 2010 with a global share of 23 percent, overtaking the UK for the first time," it said, referring to a "seismic change in geographical distribution".

"Auction sales in China totalled almost six billion euros ($8.5 billion) in 2010."

The international market rose 52 percent from a low point in 2009, said the statement, as luxury spending rose on the back of the global economic recovery.

The European Union's share of the market was 37 percent, a drop of 16 percent from a high in 2003.

The foundation warned that an EU "art tax" due to be extended to Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands and Austria next year "risks further damaging an already weakened European art and antiques market by encouraging vendors to sell elsewhere".

Tefaf will feature about 260 exhibitors in the southern Dutch city of Maastricht for 10 days from Thursday.

One of the highlights for this year's edition, the 24th, is a 1658 masterpiece by Golden Age Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn, entitled "Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo", priced at $47 million.

Vendors from 16 countries will exhibit more than 30,000 paintings, sculptures, pieces of furniture, jewellery, procelain, clothing and rare manuscripts.

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