Last year was a bumper one for many French auction houses. The January to December 2022 sale results – or ‘bilan de l’année’ – released by the biggest names in Paris suggest the post-pandemic period has brought record levels of business.
The Paris offices of Sotheby’s and Christie’s, companies owned by French billionaires, led the way. Although still well behind the totals posted in London, both achieved record turnover figures.
They were closely matched, with François Pinault-owned Christie’s selling €492m (including premium) and Patrick Drahi-owned Sotheby’s €449m.
Christie’s sales figure was a 20% increase on 2021 although the number of sales it held in France had dipped from 52 to 45.
Significantly, the total number of lots sold for over €1m rose from 55 to 80, helped by the stellar results of the collection of Hubert de Givenchy that on its own generated €118.1m in June. The Givenchy sale included France’s top lot of 2022: La Femme qui marche by Alberto Giacometti sold for a premium-inclusive €27.2m.
Sales of single-owner collections remain the spearhead of Christie’s Paris operation, representing, in number and value, more than 50% of the firm’s activity.
The Jacqueline Matisse-Monnier collection (€40.5m) was another big-hitter – sixth in the list of private collections sold by Christie’s globally in 2022.
The total sales at Christie’s were close to double those of 2019, the last year before the caveat ‘affected by the Covid epidemic’ applied. Significantly it also passed the figure for 2009 when the Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé collection was sold.
Sotheby’s €449m auction sales in Paris total was boosted by two bluechip consignments.
The second tranche of Dorothée Lalanne’s collection of works by Claude and François-Xavier Lalanne grossed €48m (the first sale in 2021 had totalled €81m), while the extraordinary collection assembled by Sheikh Hamad Bin Abdullah Al Thani for the Hôtel Lambert brought €76.6m.
Unlike Christie’s, Sotheby’s also issued a figure for private transactions (totalling €151m), doubling the equivalent statistic for 2021. Its top lot of the year at auction was the record €10m for Francis Picabia’s 1929 oil Pavonia.
At the end of June last year Bonhams announced the acquisition of Cornette de Saint Cyr, a French auction house based in Paris and Brussels.
The new, combined firm generated a total of nearly €92.2m in 2022 across 76 sales, compared to 2021 when Bonhams had auctioned cars, art and collectables in France totalling €16.2m and Cornette de Saint Cyr generated total proceeds of €33m.
The Jean-Pierre and Robert Rousset collection of Asian art sold in October 2022 was a particular success with all lots getting away for a total of €14.2m. It included the firm’s top lot of 2022, a €3.3m Jin dynasty giltwood bodhisattva.
Artcurial on a high
Artcurial had its best-ever year in 2022 – its 20th anniversary year – cementing its position as the leading ‘independent’ French auction house with total sales of €216.5m.
It sold France’s second-highest priced lot of the year when Chardin’s still-life of a basket of wild strawberries took €24.4m in March. There was also record business for the Millon group, which recorded €101.7m in sales, an increase of 24% compared to 2021.
The €86.5m in sales for Aguttes was also a high watermark for a firm founded in 1974. The 2021 total was €77.5m. A Louyse Moillon still-life from 1631 sold for €1.66m in March while on November 16, the firm conducted the 55th and last major auction from the Aristophil collections – sold to benefit the victims of a ponzi scheme that sold shares in rare books and manuscripts.
Since December 2017, some 286 cubic metres of books and documents have been sold across around 7000 lots for a total of €108.7m.
For Ader there was a house record total of €52m, a 30% increase on 2021, and a record for the work of Jean Prouvé. On June 3, two tables from the Cité universitaire Jean Zay sold for €1.92m each.
Osenat posted figures of €40.71m, an increase of 12% in turnover compared to 2021 mainly thanks to the sale of a single lot.
Sleeper of the year was the large blue and white nine dragon tianqiuping it sold in October for €9.12m. It had a top estimate of just €2000.
The Hôtel Drouot, a brand that brings together several auction houses, recorded a total of €362m across 820 different sales. In 2021 a total of 734 auctions raised €333m. The group’s digital showcase, the platform drouot.com, sold art and antiques valued €285m (up 9%).
What are the reasons for such a strong year? Those looking to stoke the negativity around Brexit will argue that Paris’ gains were London’s losses.
As it becomes more complex and more expensive for mainland European vendors to sell in the UK, France is the next best option. Christie’s described a “favourable climate” for the Parisian market.
Others will suggest the results were the due to several high-profile collections, some outstanding individual entries and the general uplift in the market that came with the end of Covid restrictions.
Museums in auction action
Museums made over 100 auction purchases at French auctions in 2022 – itself a record.
Pre-emptions by French institutions included a late gothic terracotta of the Virgin and Child made c.1500 for chapel of the Château de La Carte by the French sculptor Michel Colombe (c.1430- 1515).
On November 30, it took a premium-inclusive bid of €4.7m from the Louvre at AuctionArt Rémy le Fur & Associates, becoming the Drouot’s biggest lot of the year.
Institutional purchases continued until the end of the year.
On December 13, a portrait of the Duke of Choiseul, influential minister of Louis XV, painted by Adélaïde Labille-Guiard won by the Palace of Versailles at €243,200 as part of the collection of Anne- Aymone and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing offered at Beaussant Lefèvre.