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Christie's breaks the pounds 1bn barrier

The continued boom in the art market sent sales last year by Christie's International, the auctioneers, through the pounds 1bn barrier for only the third time. The 9 per cent rise in sales to pounds 1.02bn took the group to within pounds 313m of 1989's record after strong growth across the board, led by British and Far Eastern buyers.

The figures included the first contemporary artist to top $10m since the 1980s boom when Willem de Kooning's Woman sold for $15.6m (pounds 9.5m) in New York. It also took in the record pounds 5.3m paid for an Old Master drawing, Raphael's Study for the Head and Hand of an Apostle sold in London, and two important sales of works by Monet which fetched the third-highest auction price for the artist. Le jardin de l'artiste a Vetheuil and Nympheas each sold for $13.2m (pounds 8m) when the collection of Mr and Mrs Charles W Engelhard, the family behind the minerals group of the same name, was auctioned in New York in November.

Lord Hindlip, chairman, said: "Sales this year have increased by a healthy amount, despite there being fewer large single-owner collections sold than in 1995. The growth was broadly based, with increases in most regions and almost all categories of works of art, reflecting the strength of our international network."

Unlike the boom of the 1980s, there were fewer Impressionist paintings last year and an upsurge in demand from the Far East. Peter Blythe, finance director, said there had been fewer of what he called secondary quality Impressionist items selling at lower prices. Some of the less celebrated works of Monet and Renoir, which would have made very high prices in 1989, had been selling for "more reasonable" prices.

Separately, the much smaller Phillips said sales through its auction rooms had climbed 16 per cent to pounds 114m last year. It said the establishment of a permanent saleroom in Geneva, where turnover was up 49 per cent, had boosted the figures.