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Buyer’s premiums revised

Buyer’s premiums were rising. Christie’s had been the first to break cover with a revised series of thresholds that upped charges for both middle-market works and top-end lots. Sotheby’s and Phillips both followed and raised their buyer’s premium to similar levels in February. Doing the sums became more difficult than ever.

Bonhams became the first auction house to introduce a fourth tier of charges: a new threshold of 27.5% on the first £2500/$3000 of the hammer price that, effective from March 4, applied to all categories excluding cars, motorbikes, wine and coin and medal sales.

Bonhams said the 27.5% charge (the highest in the land) was needed to “reflect the cost of bringing objects to global auctions”.

Auction reform in France

In France there was talk once again of auction reform. For many years auction house watchdog Conseil des Ventes and auctioneers’ association SYMEV (Syndicat national des maisons de ventes volontaires) had been calling for the relaxing of the legal framework that surrounds art and antiques sales, bringing the French system closer to ‘the Anglo-Saxon model’ based primarily on self-regulation. This time, significant progress emerged.

A report making 41 recommendations at the end of 2018 was followed in February by the publication of the draft CVV Reform Act. It would, said SYMEV president Jean-Pierre Osenat, “allow the profession to reconnect with its entrepreneurial spirit”. When the bill was passed by the Senate in October, he urged that the bill be included in the parliamentary agenda of the National Assembly as soon as possible.

Masterpiece in Hong Kong

It was announced that the Masterpiece fair brand would be trialled in Hong Kong with a ‘pavilion’ of up to 25 stands within the Fine Art Asia fair (October 4-7). Majority owner MCH Group, the Swiss firm behind Art Basel, has been keen to take the brand to new shores since it made its investment in December 2017.

The ‘fair within a fair’ concept allowed for 24 gallery stands. Nonetheless, by August, the organisers were forced to confront the issue of anti-government protests in Hong Kong. Several exhibitors accepted the offer to cancel. While the event did proceed as planned, the debut of Masterpiece in the Far East was much reduced. In the place of individual stands was a ‘showcase’ that brought together objects from 15 dealers. There is hope for a larger-scale presence in 2020.

Society sale at Sotheby’s

The Fine Art Society, one of London’s oldest commercial art galleries that left New Bond Street in 2018, offered over 300 works at Sotheby’s on February 5.

The £2.7m sale included works by many of the artists and artisans with which the gallery, the first to open in Mayfair in 1876, has been closely associated. One of eight 1987 casts of George Frampton’s Peter Pan topped the sale at £280,000 (a figure subject to both VAT at 20% and a 25% buyer’s premium).

The FAS continues to look for new capital city premises under Rowena Morgan-Cox who rejoined the firm in September as managing director of its London operations. Emily Walsh who managed the FAS Dundas Street, Edinburgh gallery for 15 years, now takes the position of group managing director.

Morgan-Cox said: “We are excited about the possibilities that come with a fresh start.”