Auction houses celebrate bumper year of blockbuster art sales

Deaths and divorces of major collectors fuel record £14.3bn in sales at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips

The world’s biggest auction houses are celebrating record-breaking revenues this year after the deaths or divorces of art-collecting billionaires led to a series of blockbuster sales.

In total, the three big auction houses – Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips – sold £14.3bn worth of art and other collectibles in 2022.

Christie’s, which is based in St James’s, central London, and held its first auction in 1776, made £7bn in 2022, up 34% on 2021. “It’s an absolute record, not only for Christie’s but for the art market,” its chief executive, Guillaume Cerutti, said.

Cerutti said that despite the “challenging macro environment”, rich people were continuing to spend and the “figures show the resilience of the art market”.

Christie’s record year was helped by the sale of the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s vast collection of paintings and sculpture, which raised a record-breaking $1.5bn (£1.25bn).

Among the priciest works sold was the pointillist pioneer Georges Seurat’s Les Poseuses, Ensemble (Petite version), an 1888 oil on canvas depicting three nude women, which sold for $149.2m including fees, a record for a Seurat piece.

Cézanne’s La Montagne Sainte-Victoire, a colourful landscape painted from 1888-1890, sold for $137.8m, another record. A Gustav Klimt 1903 painting, Birch Forest, set the high mark for a Klimt work, selling for $104.6m.

Art handlers hold up La Montagne Sainte-Victoire, by Paul Cézanne.
Art handlers hold up La Montagne Sainte-Victoire, by Paul Cézanne. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

“When you look at a painting you’re looking into a different country, into someone else’s imagination, how they saw it,” Allen said when some of his collection went on show in 2016.

Christie’s also sold Andy Warhol’s portrait of Marilyn Monroe Shot Sage Blue Marilyn, from the estate of the Swiss art dealers Thomas and Doris Ammann for $195m – the second-highest amount an artwork has ever sold for at auction. The record belongs to the possibly fake “lost Leonardo” work Salvator Mundi that sold for $450m in 2017.

The rival auction house Sotheby’s reported record 2022 sales of $7.4bn, while Phillips reached a historic $1.3bn.

Charles Stewart, Sotheby’s chief executive, said: “The flight to quality in 2022 led to sustained demand for blue-chip masterpieces – be they in established or new categories such as classic cars or collectibles.”

A 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupé
It is not only paintings going for high prices: this 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupé sold for £114m. Photograph: Mercedes-Benz AG/AFP/Getty Images

A good proportion of Sotheby’s sales came from the $246m second part of the Macklowe collection sale, after the divorce of the property tycoon Harry Macklowe from his wife, Linda. In total, the Macklowe sale, which started in 2021, achieved $922m.

Sotheby’s top lots of 2022 included a 21-bedroom house in Bel Air, California, with 42 full bathrooms and seven half-bathrooms, which was sold to the LA fashion mogul Richard Saghian for $141m; a 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupé for £114m; and Warhol’s White Disaster [White Car Crash 19 Times] (1963), which went for $85.4m.

“As we consolidate the transformation of our business, Sotheby’s today is in a very different place to where it was even three years ago: with vastly expanded digital reach and engagement, a larger and younger client base than ever before, and a much broader range of offerings,” Stewart said.

“In 2023, we look forward to continuing to set new records, bringing new innovations to the market and, of course, celebrating our milestone 50-year anniversary in Asia.”

Phillips’s total sales of $1.3bn was 8% higher than 2021 but 32% higher than the pre-pandemic level in 2019. Its highest-valued lot, a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat, was sold in New York last month for $85m.


Rupert Neate Wealth correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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