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James Ensor’s Squellete arrêtant masques, of 1891, sold for €7.36m (£6.1m) including premium at Sotheby’s in Paris on December 7. The price was the highest in France for a painting in 2016 and a new auction record for the artist.

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The firm posted premium-inclusive sales of €244.6m (£204m) for the calendar year 2016, a 4.5% increase on the €234m achieved the previous year.

Competitor Sotheby’s clocked up a 4.3% increase on 2015 with €220m. Both houses’ tallies were aided by significant single-owner collections: the €32.5m Marcie-Rivière collection at Christie’s and the €19.3m Robert de Balkany sale at Sotheby’s.

Artcurial’s sales realised €210.1m, representing a 10% increase on last year. This included the top lot sold in France this year, a 1957 Ferrari Scaglietti sold for €32.1m at Rétromobile in February.

In the year when the Drouot could finally draw a line under the long-running ‘cols rouge’ affair, the Paris auction collective recorded sales of €370m for auctions held by its members.

The figure was described as a stable result indicating the company was “holding its place in the French art market”.

Asian windfalls

Close to 6% of Drouot’s €370m total was provided by a single lot, the €21m carved steatite seal of the Qianlong emperor at Pierre Bergé in December.

Other highs in the Asian works of art sphere included a €745,800 Utamaro – a record for a Japanese print – as part of the Portier collection (Christie’s and Beaussant-Lefèvre in June), and the €13.3m gilt bronze Buddha Vairocana sold by Christie’s in December.

Tribal art again proved a pillar of the Paris market.

Sotheby’s set a record for a Lega work with a €3.67m mask from the DRC, while the Musée du Quai Branly pre-empted a gilded wood Akye statue from the Ivory Coast at €624,800, at Binoche et Giquello.

This was one of a number of significant French institutional purchases made in the Paris rooms across the year. A pair of Burgundian marble mourner figures from the duc du Berry’s tomb were pre-empted by the Louvre at Christie’s in June for €5.05m.

Other individual French firms posting 2016 totals included Aguttes with €33.1m, Beaussant-Lefèvre on €14.5m and Leclère with €17.1m.