Despite the fall, chief executive Ed Dolman was upbeat, saying he had expected much worse – which it would have been without the £304.9m Yves St Laurent sale in Paris last February.

He said the total gave them a 56.4 per cent split of the market they share with Sotheby’s.

Headline figures show a 59 per cent fall in post-War and Contemporary art totals to £244.3m, a 24 per cent drop in Impressionist and Modern works to £500.9m and a 29 per cent decline in Asian Art to £265.1m.

However, Old Masters – seen as one of the strengthening sectors in the recession – were up by six per cent at £181.2m, while decorative arts surged 149 per cent to £77.4m, no doubt boosted by the St Laurent sale.

Christie’s declared private sales of £265.7m, down one per cent on 2008 totals, but up as a share of the overall total from 9.5 to 12.5 per cent. These include deals brokered by Christie’s as well as sales by the firm’s wholly-owned subsidiary, the contemporary art dealership Haunch of Venison.

Christie’s saw a rosier picture when it came to bidding behaviour.

“While sales volumes decreased on previous years, the stability of the art market and the appetite of the global buying audience were demonstrated by a significant increase in average auction sold rates by lot,” they said.

“In 2009, average auction sold rates rose five per cent to 80 per cent from 75 per cent last year. The percentage of lots sold at or above high estimate also increased to 36 per cent, illustrating sustained price levels and the continued intrinsic value of art.”

The progress of online bidding threw up some interesting statistics too. Christie’s LIVE delivered 30 per cent of all bids and 14 per cent of all winning bids, worth a total of £43.5m including premium. The total number of bids online last year was just under 50,000.

The appointment of François Curiel as president of Christie’s Asia, points to a fresh move to capitalise on the burgeoning Far Eastern market.

“The market outlook is confident and is underpinned by the returning dominance of private buyers, from the Americas, the Middle East, as well as Mainland China and Asia,” said Mr Dolman.

“The continuing growth and global nature of the art market is also evident in the number of new buyers in Christie’s sales worldwide. In particular, in 2009, the value bought by Chinese buyers worldwide in Christie’s sales increased by 94 per cent.

“Within the Greater China region (Hong Kong, Taiwan and China), Chinese buyers now represent 35% of all buying value, an increase of 20% over 2008.”

By Ivan Macquisten