Sotheby's disputes Christie's claims

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The Independent Online
THE BATTLE between the world's only two truly international auction houses intensified yesterday when Christie's International's claim of increasing market share was rubbished by Sotheby's, which said its rival had manipulated the figures.

Christie's claimed that its share of worldwide sales in the August to July 1991/2 auction season had nudged up to 49 per cent from 48 per cent. But Christie's took the unprecedented step of including private treaty sales, worth pounds 22m, in its figures. Sotheby's did not include private deals in its figures, although it said its private treaty sales exceeded Christie's.

Christie's also claimed to have won market leadership in Europe, but Michael Ainslie, Sotheby's chief executive officer, said that appeared to be the case only because Sotheby's had sold the dollars 29.4m ( pounds 15.6m) Patino collection in New York rather than its native Geneva.

According to Sotheby's estimate, the two rivals' worldwide market share was static, with Sotheby's taking 52 per cent and Christie's 48 per cent.

International fine art sales fell by 12.7 per cent to pounds 1.2bn from pounds 1.4bn, according to the figures released by the two auction houses.

But both said that sales had increased by about 6 per cent in the spring season between January and July and the market was stabilising.

Mr Ainslie said: 'The market is not booming but it is getting its equilibrium back and buyers and sellers are beginning to come together.'

Both auction houses reported that although the bubble burst in post-1870s art after 1989/90, traditional areas of art like Old Master pictures were not hit so badly.

Christie's sales fell 11 per cent to pounds 587m in the full season while Sotheby's fell 14 per cent to pounds 640m. Christie's shares rose 1p to 124p and Sotheby's A shares were unchanged at 663p.

Phillips, the British auction house, reported a siginificant increase in sales outside its London and regional salerooms to almost one a month, indicating that buyers who would not normally frequent showrooms are buying art and antiques.

It sold pounds 85.3m of art and antiques during the 1991/2 season, compared with pounds 88.4m in 1990/1.