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Fine art exports paint a healthy picture for the economy


A surge in fine art exports helped to boost Britain’s trade performance in June, official figures yesterday showed.

There was a £500m increase in sales of paintings and sculptures to buyers from outside Europe in the month, almost double the increase of the previous month, according to the Office for National Statistics and HMRC.

This narrowed Britain’s trade gap to the lowest level since January.

Christie’s and Sotheby’s enjoyed a “bumper month” according to art experts, the highlight of which was the sale of impressionist Claude Monet’s Venetian masterpiece Le Palais Contarini, pictured, at Sotheby’s for £20m.

Melanie Gerlis, art market editor at the Art Newspaper, said: “June really was the busiest art market month I have ever known and London is the second-biggest trading hub for art behind New York. £500m doesn’t seem that outrageous.”

The HMRC’s figures show more than three quarters of the artworks by value were exported to the US and Switzerland during June, although Asian buyers are increasingly influential. “In terms of overseas buying, the art market is increasingly international and of course the auction houses and dealers are pitching the whole time to Asia as it is the fastest-growing region for art and other luxury markets,” Ms Gerlis added.

The overall trade deficit was £1.5bn in the month, down from £6bn in May as the nation’s exports of goods and services hit an all-time high of £43.2bn in June. The figures raise the prospect of trade boosting overall growth for the second quarter in a row and follow a raft of healthier economic news. A clutch of upbeat data has shown soaring car sales, house prices and Britain’s manufacturers firing on all cylinders for the first time in more than 20 years.

Figures yesterday also showed the construction industry growing 1.4 per cent between April and June, faster than the ONS thought.

Capital Economics’ Martin Beck said: “It looks like net trade should add marginally to growth in Q2, following its healthy contribution in the first quarter. June’s figures, along with a run of recent positive export surveys, provide a decent springboard for export growth in the third quarter.”

Exports of goods were up 4.9 per cent in June, rising nearly twice as quickly as imports.

Far East art boom: £500m - the rise in sales outside Europe