Christie's auction

Christie's auctioneer Georgina Hilton selling Jean-Michel Basquiat’s El Gran Espectaculo (The Nile) for $67.11m (inc buyer’s premium) at Christie’s New York in May.

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Christie’s reported its total preliminary sales across its business (including auctions, private sales and other revenue) reached in $6.2bn (£5bn) 2023, down 25% on the previous year.

In contrast, Sotheby’s said its total sales for the year were on track to reach $8bn (£6.3bn), in line with 2022. Its final figures will be released at the end of January.

Bonhams’ sales reached $1.14bn (£890m) for 2023, up 14% year-on-year.

Both the Sotheby’s and Bonhams figures include art, collectables and luxury as well as classic and collectors’ cars. Sotheby’s figure also includes real estate sales.

‘Paradoxical year’

Christie’s auction sales were $5bn (£4.06bn) in 2023, down 30% on 2022.

The firm said if the stand-out single-owner sale from the Paul Allen collection in 2022 is stripped out of the comparison with 2023, the figure would have been down only 7% (in US dollar terms). The 2023 figure is also 7% higher than its pre-pandemic sales in 2019.

Chief executive Guillaume Cerutti said: “2023 has been a paradoxical year. A challenging macro-environment and the art market contraction explain our lower auction totals compared to the record sales of the previous year. One huge collection can make a big difference…. When you look at the history of the art market, there are fluctuations every year.”

He said that looking at the past 10-15 years overall, the art market as a whole has not grown hugely. For instance, between 2010 and 2023 global art market sales have ranged from $57bn to $68bn annually (according to the 2023 Art Market Report by Art Basel and UBS by Arts Economics).

Cerutti said because Christie ’s does not “manufacture its own products” it is reliant on the f low of consignments. For instance, The Paul Allen auction of 2022 contributed $1.62bn (£1.42bn) to last year’s sales.

He added: “We saw an increase in private sales and a strong inf lux of new and younger clients at auction. We have been continuing our judicious investments in innovation and expansion. We are confident for the future, with a promising pipeline of consignments already in motion for 2024.”

Ben Gore, chief operating officer at Christie’s, spoke about the economic headwinds that impacted the year and said Christie’s is not focused on managing its market share or worrying about media headlines. For instance, he said if it had taken on the consignment of the Emily Fisher Landau Collection that Sotheby’s won, its results would have been flat year on year (the evening sale of the Landau collection alone raised $406.4m/£330.4m including fees for Sotheby’s).

Despite the sales slump in 2023, Cerutti was optimistic. He said private sales were up and its luxury category had its best-ever year. He added that the highlights at the firm included the growth of luxury sales, strong buying in Asia and the growth of new buyers through digital platforms.

Christie’s online-only sales accounted for 66% of all the firm’s new buyers, with a 33% growth in new bidders. In the UK Christie’s said sales reached $826m (£668m) for 2023.

Looking forward to 2024, Christie’s noted the continuing macro-economic headwinds but said consignors were becoming more realistic in terms of estimates, guided by Christie’s specialists.

Buying spree

Bonhams reported its best-ever year with sales of $1.14bn (£890m) for 2023, up 14% year-on-year.

Last year Bonhams began its buying spree and its 2022 sales hit the $1bn mark for the first time. During 2022 it purchased Scandinavian firm Bukowskis in January, followed by US auction house Skinner and Danish saleroom Bruun Rasmussen in March. The firm then acquired French outfit Cornette de Saint Cyr in June. It now has 14 salerooms, 34 offices and 60-plus departments.

It has also focused on digital growth, with the number of lots sold online rising 45% and online auctions increasing 105% compared to 2022.

Registrations to Bonhams’ auctions are up 31% this year.

Of the 997 auctions Bonhams held in 2023, 602 were online-only (timed) auctions. Such sales now account for 60% of its auctions, compared with just 25% in 2020 and 11% in 2019. A growth in younger buyers was also revealed with “acquisitions by Gen Z and Millennials up by 147% in 2023”.

Bruno Vinciguerra, global CEO for Bonhams, said: “With our expanded international platform and the breadth of categories we offer, it shows Bonhams occupies a unique space among international auction houses.”

Quality counts

Sotheby’s sales reached $8bn (£6.3bn), in line with 2022. It said of the 60,000-plus lots it sold in 2023, more than 70 surpassed the $10m mark.

Sotheby’s CEO Charles Stewart added: “While the art and luxury markets are not immune to the more challenging market context, we see continued global demand for works of the finest quality, with exceptional provenance, and that are fresh to market.”

Sotheby’s full sales figures will be released on January 29. Neither Christie’s, Sotheby’s nor Bonhams report profit figures.