Auctions paint a pretty picture for Christie's profits

 

The record sale of a Mark Rothko painting helped drive auctioneer Christie's to its most successful first half year, as investors continued to flock to art as a good place to put their cash.

The auction house's global sales hit £2.2bn in the first six months of 2012, up more than a tenth on a year earlier. The New York sale in May saw the auctioneer bring the hammer down on Rothko's Orange, Red, Yellow for $86.8m (£53.8m), the largest sum paid in auction for a post-war work.

The following month in London a buyer paid £23.5m for Yves Klein's Le rose du bleu, a record for the artist.

The high end of the auction market has remained remarkably strong. Rival Sotheby's sold Edvard Munch's The Scream for $119.9m, the most paid at auction, just a week before the Rothko sale.

The practice of selling works privately has soared by 50 per cent to £413.4m, levels not previously seen in the first half of any previous year.

Steven Murphy, chief executive of Christie's, said the soaring sales were powered by a "growing worldwide demand for art". Almost 20 per cent of bids were placed by new clients, with bidders registered from 124 countries. The auctioneer sold 340 works at auction for over $1m, which was down from 376 a year earlier. However, it sold 26 works for over $10m, up from 18.

The second half began strongly with £85.1m spent on Old Master and British paintings earlier this month, a record for the category. The sale was led by The Lock, painted by John Constable.

Rothko's Orange, Red, Yellow came from the collection of Philadelphia art patron and humanitarian David Pincus, who died last year December, which achieved a total of $175m, well above the $100m estimate.

The most expensive painting ever sold is Paul Cézanne's The Card Players, which was bought by the Gulf kingdom of Qatar for around £160million last year.

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