Paris, France
Led by results from the top firms in Paris, French auction houses achieved a solid year of sales.

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Sotheby’s France chalked up €251.4m for 2108, its third consecutive rise and an increase on last year’s €246m. Individual records of €45.5m for a Contemporary art sale; €30m for an Asian art auction and €27.5m for the sale of the contents of Pierre Bergé’s various homes were major contributors to that figure.

Its top individual price was a premium-inclusive €16.18m (£14.2m) paid for a Qianlong mark and period Chinese vase, the highest auction price recorded for a piece of Chinese porcelain in France and the most expensive lot sold in France last year. 

Chinese vase

The most expensive lot sold at auction in France in 2018 was this Qianlong mark and period vase which sold for a premium-inclusive €16.18m (£14.2m) in June last year, helping Sotheby’s to a sales total of €251.4m for 2018.

Christie’s French operation realised a total of €234.5m against €342.3m in 2017, when results were boosted by results like the €25m Alberto Giacometti figure.

Tabwa work mask

Tribal art featured among notable individual results across sales in Paris. An auction record for a Tabwa work was established at Christie’s in April 2018 when this mask sold for a premium-inclusive €2.91m (£2.55m).

Auction houses post their annual turnover figures or 'bilan' at the start of each year in France and alongside the figures from the arms of the international auction firms operating in France, French firms also reveal their numbers. 

Artcurial’s total for its Paris, Lyon, Toulouse and Monaco operations was €195.3m, a slight increase on the €191m for 2017. It included the highest price recorded this year for an Impressionist painting in France – the €7.07m paid in June for an early landscape by Vincent van Gogh.

‘Raccommodeuses de filets dans les dunes by van Gogh

‘Raccommodeuses de filets dans les dunes’, the early Dutch landscape by Vincent van Gogh’s which sold at Artcurial for a hammer price of €6m (£5.26m) – €7m including premium. Image copyright: Artcurial.

(Figures for Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Artcurial include premiums and aftersales but not private sales.)

At the Drouot auction centre, home to sales for over 60 French auction firms, a total of €376m was recorded for 2018, which was more or less the same as the €378m for the preceding year (Drouot figures include premiums but not aftersales or private sales). One of the bigger boosts to this figure came from the 13 sales of manuscripts from the Aristophil Collection which contributed €26.8m.

Throughout French auctions the right of pre-emption by French museums allowing them to claim a lot at price determined by the fall of the hammer ensures a steady stream of institutional buying.

Vincennes dish

Over 220 works were purchased by French museums and institutions at Drouot over the course of 2018. They included this Vincennes dish from the bleu celeste service, which was pre-empted by the Palace of Versailles in a sale held by Peschetau-Badin in October for a premium-inclusive €119,700 (£105,000). Image credit © Bruno Simon

At Drouot, for example, 86 institutions secured 224 lots either through the right of pre-emption or bidding direct at auction. Sotheby’s recorded 18 pre-emptions and museum purchases and Christie’s 12 purchases by museums of which seven were pre-emptions.

Outside Paris, the Ivoire group of auctioneers, comprising 13 regional auction firms across France from Reims to Aix en Provence, chalked up a sales total for 2018 of €64m.