Paul Allen Christie's sale

Christie’s auctioneer Adrien Meyer takes the winning bid for Georges Seurat’s Les Poseuses, Ensemble (Petite version) at the Paul Allen sale on November 9, 2022.

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Last year Sotheby’s reported its largest full year sales in the company’s 277-year history.

However 2022 is Christie's year. It reported total sales at $8.4bn. This is up 17% in US dollar terms and up 34% in sterling compared with 2021 figures – the highest annual sales total in art market history.

For the first time Sotheby’s presented its figures including its real estate (property) and classic cars divisions alongside fine art and luxury sales. This made a projected total of $8bn (including cars and real estate). However fine art and luxury sales reached $6.4bn and fine art auction sales were $5.7bn which is down 9.5% on 2021’s $6.3bn.

Christie’s reported $7.2bn for auction sales for the year. While Phillips reported $1.3bn in total sales. (see box below for more figures).

For both Christie’s and Sotheby’s single owner collections were key.

At Christie’s its strong results were in large part due to its show-stopping Paul Allen sale which set an all-time high for a single-owner collection. The auction of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s collection in New York raised an $1.62bn (£1.42bn) including premium. Other collection highlights were the Ann and Gordon Getty collection and the Hubert De Givenchy sale in Paris.

Guillaume Cerutti, chief executive officer at Christie’s, said the high sell-through rate of 85% for all lots at auction in 2022 was in part due to the increase in single owner sales.

For Sotheby’s, three single-owner collections totalled more than $100m each (David M Solinger, Sir Joseph Hotung, The Macklowe Collection) and single owner sales accounted for $800m of its fine art auction total.

Sotheby's art auction

Sotheby's London Modern & Contemporary Art Evening sale on March 2. 

Photo: haydonperrior

Charles F Stewart, Sotheby’s CEO, said: “The flight to quality in 2022 led to sustained demand for blue-chip masterpieces – whether in established or new categories such as classic cars or collectables.”

Asia remains a large growth market but Christie’s reported sales were actually slightly down on the previous year at $833m (£700m) (down 20% in US$ and 8% in £ vs 2021). However even with this dip in sales it was its third highest year for Christie’s in Asia.

At Sotheby’s, despite the decrease in overall fine art and luxury sales, it reported continued growth in Asia. Auction sales in Asia were $1.1bn – matching the company’s 2021 all-time-high record and it plans further expansion.

Next year, Sotheby’s will celebrate its 50-year anniversary in Asia and in 2024 will open a new 24,000 sq ft location in Hong Kong. The multi-storey building will incorporate an exhibition space and salerooms, galleries and a café.

US and online expansion

For Christie's its strongest region during the year was the US.

Online and digital growth also remains a focus. Sotheby’s said 91% of auction bids were placed online in 2022, while Christie’s said just under half of all sales are now held online.

The value of an average lot sold online was $16,500, double the $8200 five years ago, and 75% of bids placed at auction were ‘digital’.

For the NFTs, Christie’s acknowledge the volatile market in 2022 which “continues to be tested amidst the volatility of the broader crypto market”.

Christie’s sold 87 NFT lots in 2022 for a total of $5.9m. Christie’s also launched, a new investment fund supporting "Web 3.0, FinTech and hardware or software that facilitates digital engagement with art".

At Sotheby’s total sales volume for NFTs in 2022 through its platforms increased year-over-year by nearly 25 times, and it continues to expand its Sotheby’s Metaverse (an online platform to sell digital artworks and collectables via crypto currencies and registered on the Ethereum and Polygon blockchains).

The growth in digital, online auctions and NFTs is also a way to attract younger collectors to buying art through the top auction houses. Christie’s said 35% of all buyers in 2022 were new to Christie’s, with 65% entering via online sales and millennials accounting for 34% of all new buyers (up from 31% in 2021).

Sotheby’s said it had a “strong audience increase in both reach and demographics”.

The record sales figures were inspite of a lack of Russia art sales due to sanctions following the war in Ukraine. 

With inflation, wars, social unrest and a cost of living crisis across the world, the auction houses are still confident for 2023 and have a strong pipeline of consignments.

Cerutti said: “In 2022, despite a challenging macro-environment, Christie’s has achieved our highest ever global sales. Three factors explain this performance: the resilience of the art and luxury markets, the remarkable success of several major art collections – including the unforgettable Paul Allen sale – and the expertise and hard work of our teams around the world.”

However he added that in some respects its success felt like “dancing on a volcano” due the desperate situations in countries such as Ukraine, Iran and elsewhere. He said despite the company’s incredible success it “pays attention to the wider world and we are aware of our position. We do not forget the rest of world”.

In Numbers:

Sotheby’s 2022 (projected)

$8bn total sales (including cars and real estate)

$6.4bn fine art and luxury auction sales (live and online)

$5.7bn fine art auction sales (down 9.5% on 2021’s $6.3bn)

$1.1bn private sales (down 15% from $1.3bn in 2021)

$580m online sales

91% of bids are online

Christie’s 2022 (projected)

$8.4bn total (fine art and luxury) sales (up 17% in US$ and 34% in £ on 2021)

$7.2bn auction sales (live and online)

$1.2bn private sales 

$363m online sales

75% bids are online

Phillips 2022 (projected)

$1.3bn total sales

$250m private sales (20% increase on 2021)

47% of buyers were first-time buyers at Phillips across online-only and live auctions