Impressionists' revival colours Christie's results

NIGEL COPE

A resurgence in sales of Impressionist paintings, combined with strong sales of jewellery, fuelled a 32 per cent rise in profits at the auction house Christie's International last year. Several Picasso paintings fetched more than $10m with one, Le Miroir, sold for $20m to an anonymous buyer in New York. Works by Van Gogh, Modigliani and Monet went under the hammer for more than $10m. Modigliani's Nu assis au collier went for pounds 7.8m

Impressionist art is now gradually recovering from the dramatic slump in 1990 after being one of the boom areas of the art market in the late 1980s. "It's been a good year for Impressionists. The market is definitely getting stronger," a spokeswoman said. Jewellery sales grew by 37 per cent, with items from the personal collection of Princess Salimah Aga Khan fetching pounds 18m.

Christie's group profits grew from pounds 16m to pounds 21.5m last year on sales that were 14 per cent higher at pounds 931m. Nineteenth-century pictures, Old Master drawings, coins, medals and cars all did well.

Forthcoming sales include jewellery from the estate of Eva Gabor, who died last year.

Barings, the collapsed bank that was taken over by the Dutch group ING last year, is selling one of the family heirlooms. A Thomas Lawrence portrait of Mrs Henry Baring, one of the nineteenth century members of the family, is expected to fetch pounds 600,000-pounds 800,000 at an auction on 18 April in London. The bank said it had no space to hang the painting at its new offices in London Wall.

Christie's has also announced a boardroom re-shuffle. Sir Anthony Tennant is stepping down as chairman after three years at the helm, although he will remain on the board as a non-executive director. He will be replaced by Lord Hindlip, currently chairman of Christie's Europe. Christopher Balfour, a former director of Hambros Bank who oversaw Christie's flotation in 1973, takes over at Christie's Europe.

Other appointments include Baroness Dunn, deputy chairman of HSBC Holdings, who will join Christie's as a non-executive director.

Sir Anthony said auction profits were up by 17 per cent, helped by a new commission structure. Further benefits should be apparent this year when the structure will be in place for the whole trading period.

Auction costs grew by 16 per cent largely due to higher catalogue, freight and insurance costs. Marketing expenditure also increased.

The company said it was in regular contact with Joseph Lewis, the Bahamas- based investor who has built a near-29 per cent stake in the company. Mr Lewis has said he has no plans to bid for the group.

The final dividend is being raised from 1.6p to 2.15p. Shares closed 4p higher at 199p.

Top sales in 1995

1 Vincent van Gogh: Jeune homme a la casquette - $13.2m

2 Picasso: Mere et enfant - $11.9m

3 Picasso: `Le Miroir' - $20.2m

4 Monet: View of Rouen Cathedral - pounds 7.6m

5 George Stubbs: Portrait of the Royal Tiger - pounds 3.2m

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