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After a 92 per cent rise in 2007, Sotheby’s sales climbed a further 30 per cent to €155.2m (£135m), ousting Christie’s from the top spot they had held in France for the last five years. Christie’s sales were down 19 per cent at €150.3m (£131m). But the blockbuster Yves St-Laurent & Pierre Bergé Collection, expected to bring €200m-300m in Paris next month, should see Christie’s back on top of the pile in 2009.

Each firm recorded 18 individual prices of over €1m. Sotheby’s bettered Christie’s by €33.4m (£29m) to €24.7m (£21.5m) for sales of Post-War & Contemporary Art; Christie’s outsold their rivals in Impressionist & Modern Art with €30.4m (£26.4m) compared to €28m (£24.3m).

The Big Two have opened up a sizeable gap on Artcurial who, only last year, ran neck and neck with Sotheby’s. Despite sales of €35.5m (£30.8m) in Modern and Contemporary Art, and an eye-catching €7.6m (£6.6m) from the developing field of Comic Strips, Artcurial’s turnover slumped over 25 per cent to €94m (£81.7m) – although that was still comfortably clear of Paris rivals Tajan, where sales were down 17 per cent at €58m (£50.4m).

The Hôtel Drouot, which hosts most of Paris’s 70 other auction firms, saw combined sales fall 18 per cent to €411m (£357m), with just ten individual prices of over €1m (as compared to 36 at Sotheby’s and Christie’s combined). Piasa led the way at Drouot with sales of €43m (£37.4m), down 12 per cent – albeit after a 34 per cent rise in 2007.

Despite a 28 per cent fall in sales to €13.7m (£15.8m), Beaussant-Lefèvre continued to register impressively healthy selling rates of 89 per cent by lot and 86 per cent by value.

Sales at Pierre Bergé & Associés, which splits activity between Drouot and Brussels, fell 24 per cent to €32m (£27.8m) – just ahead of Aguttes, who are based in suburban Neuilly-sur-Seine and also acquired the dynamic Anaf firm in Lyon during the summer. Aguttes’s total sales of €31.4m reflected a drop of 37 per cent on 2007, when their results were swollen by the exceptional €22m André Lefèvre Collection. Osenat of Fontainebleau, the leading firm in the Ile-de-France, saw turnover down ten per cent at €15.9m (£13.8m).

Sales at Millon & Associés fell 12 per cent to €29m.

It should perhaps be noted that the average fall in sales, of just under 20 per cent, almost exactly mirrors sterling’s decline against the euro over the year.

By Simon Hewitt