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Total UK art auction market turnover for 2003 was £451m, compared to £506m in 2002. The £55m shortfall appears to confirm that the UK art market was adversely affected by the geopolitical events of the previous 12 months – and some palpable shifts in buying tastes –  although it also reflects the absence of the one-off £45m windfall of The Massacre of the Innocents by Rubens, sold by Sotheby’s in 2002.

The highest priced item recorded by the ASI last year was the unattributed 15th century parcel gilt and silvered bronze roundel, sold by Christie’s in December for £6.2m.

In terms of the number of lots handled, the total turnover in 2003 was only marginally down on the previous year, falling by just 83 lots from 30,376 in 2002 to 30,293 lots in 2003.

In terms of market share by auction house, the most significant change in 2003 was the absence of Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg (fourth behind Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonhams in 2002).

Christie’s and Sotheby’s both turned over more lots in 2003 than in the previous year. Christie’s total lot turnover in 2003 (8608) surpassed that of Sotheby’s (7509), although when measured in money, Sotheby’s turnover of £208.94m was marginally up on Christie’s sales of £206.1m.
Both auction houses were down on their 2002 figures, however, while Bonhams improved their financial turnover from £19.8m in 2002 to £22.7m in 2003, despite handling fewer lots last year (down from 6140 lots in 2002 to 5909 in 2003).

According to the ASI, the two biggest UK provincial auctioneers in terms of picture sales were Lyon & Turnbull (£1.14m) and Tennants (£1.05m).

Market share by category remained broadly unchanged, although (minus the Rubens) the turnover of Old Masters fell by seven per cent overall from 26 per cent to 19 per cent, with the sub-category of Flemish Old Masters 11 per cent down on the previous year.

Also providing some statistical support to experiences on the ground, 20th century art, meanwhile, was up, with turnover increasing marginally from 41 per cent of the total UK market in 2002 to 44 per cent in 2003. Despite the difficulties experienced in the 19th century picture market, the £16.8m contribution of the Forbes collection of Victorian paintings sold by Christie’s, saw this category rise by a similar amount from 25 per cent to 28 per cent of the UK art auction market.