kea furniture was noticeable by its absence at Christie's inaugural sale of Nordic art and design. But the same clean and simple design ethos of the mass-production retailer is hugely in demand in the world's top auction rooms.
Christie's sale, held at the end of October, was the first of its kind outside of Scandinavia and heralds a new worldwide market, according to specialist Sophie Hawkins. "We have found that in recent years the top quality art and design from Nordic countries has been selling particularly well at auction," she says. "We have achieved new auction records consistently and the demand for these top quality works has been increasing."
The sale was a carefully orchestrated collection of art and furniture - but it's the former market that has really come of age in recent times. "The key point is that it is now being bought by non-Scandinavians," says Hawkins. "Historically, Scandinavian art has gone back to Scandinavia whereas now it is going to Asia, America and the rest of Europe which is the main tell-tale sign of a growth market."
Not that furniture isn't selling well too. "Furniture has always had an international buyer base," adds Hawkins. "Our sale also offered contemporary art and design which has a strong appeal to the young collector, and that in turn increases the market".
Many traditional antique sectors are facing an uncertain future as collectors expand their collections to encompass the less traditional, says Hawkins. "Many of the works reaching these prices now have been rising since the late Eighties, but one of the beauties of this sale was the fact that many of the lots were not at the ridiculously high prices you would find in the modern Impressionist sales."
So, for example, the auction included contemporary art starting at around £6,000. Infinitely more affordable than a Matisse or Picasso, say, this opens the sector to a wider collector base.
In fact, the Scandinavian aesthetic has always been popular. It's regarded as clean, simple and inherently beautiful. It has also been experimental - one of the best known designs, Arne Jacobsen's egg chair, has been reproduced extensively.
A good quality original Jacobsen, with stool, sold in the Christie's sale for £30,000, around five times its pre-sale estimate - proving that collectors are more than willing to pay top prices for the best items.
Other top names in the furniture world are Edvin Ohrstrom and Alvar Aalto; whilst the best known artists include Johan Christian Dahl, Vilhelm Hammershoi, Helene Schjerfbeck, Johannes S Kjarval, Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Olafur Eliasson and the Swedish artist Carl Larsson.
The sale exceeded Christie's expectations and Hawkins is very bullish. "Many people are buying for investment, but an awful lot of people are also buying because they are very aesthetically pleasing pieces that they fall in love with," she says. It's hard to get consignments because people don't want to part with these works they've bought."
Christie's sale focused on the 19th- and 20th-century post-war works, but the next auction, next October, will include even more contemporary artists, and it's with the up-and-coming designers and artists that you can make the best investments.
The clean style of Scandinavian art and furniture suits the modern home and with a new generation of collectors buying it's likely to start playing a larger role in the auction rooms as well.
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