Art shows fine form as auction sales rise: Christie's and Sotheby's get boost

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The Independent Online
SOTHEBY'S and Christie's, the world's two leading auction houses, have both reported their highest sales figures since 1990 in a year that has confirmed the recovery in the fine art market.

Michael Ainslie, president and chief executive officer of Sotheby's Holdings Inc, said: 'We are very pleased with the recovery. This is the first strong year of recovery since the market bottomed in 1991 . . .

'A lot of it is down to owners' perception of the art market. If they do not think that prices are good, they will not put great works on the market.'

Sales of Impressionist and modern paintings and jewellery were almost entirely responsible for the 1993 sales recovery at Sotheby's. Furniture and jewellery were the main components at Christie's.

Sotheby's reported sales up 31 per cent to pounds 879m, while Christie's sales rose 14 per cent to pounds 726m.

Sotheby's sales for the autumn season (August to December) increased by 32 per cent to pounds 425m, and Christie's rose by 14 per cent to pounds 357m.

Both houses reported tentative sales increases last year, but they were only marginally ahead of those reported during 1991's slump. This year's figures are still well below the bumper sales achieved during the late 1980s and 1990.

The recovery in the Impressionist and Modern Art market was highlighted this autumn with the sale of Stanley Seeger's collection of 88 works by Picasso. They sold for a total of pounds 21.6m, and highlights included: Femmes et Enfants au Bord de la Mer, which sold for dollars 4.4m (pounds 2.97m); Verre, Bouquet, Guitare, Bouteille, which sold for dollars 2.3m; and Cartes a Jouer, Paquet de Tabac, Bouteille, Verre, which sold for dollars 2.1m.

In the jewellery market, Christie's in Geneva held one of its most successful sales yet during the autumn. The Archduke Joseph Diamond, the largest historical D-colour diamond to come on the market at 78.54 carats, sold for Sfr9.6m (pounds 4.3m).

Sotheby's in Geneva set a world record for a jewellery sale when its November Magnificent Jewellery sale brought in Sfr102.8m.

Highlights included a 100.36 carat diamond, the second-largest D-colour internally flawless stone ever offered for sale at auction, which sold for Sfr17.8m, the second-highest price ever paid for a diamond.

Mr Ainslie said the auction houses were picking up market share from jewellery retailers because they charged commission of up to 20 per cent rather than up to 50 per cent.

Phillips, the auction house, reported sales up 1.5 per cent to pounds 82m for 1993.