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Art market

Parisian auction results buoyed by decorative arts

Most auctioneers reported increased sales in 2005

Paris

The strong results recorded in 2005 across all the world’s art markets were also reflected in France. Last year sales at auction were $6.5 billion, giving France a 13% share of the global art market, according to an estimate by Christie’s.

Most of France’s main players reported increases in turnover (see below). Drouot, the Paris umbrella organisation which includes all the auctioneers in the capital, but which is mainly used for everyday sales, reported that sales were up by 16% in 2005 compared with 2004.

Artcurial, which groups four auctioneers—Francis Briest, Rémy Le Fur, Hervé Poulain and François Tajan—reported a substantial increase, with sales rising by 86%. The firm, which is backed by the arms group Dassault, specialises in Modern and contemporary art, design and vintage cars, but its star turn last year was the Rossignol sale of 18th-century French furniture. In December it set the highest price for a work sold at auction in France, when a Louis XV desk made $8.2 million.

As for Christie’s and Sotheby’s, their results do not refect the full benefit of their trading in France, as both firms export the best French works for sale in London or New York. High priced items such as Brancusi’s Bird in space (Christie’s New York, May 2005, $27.4 million); Canaletto’s Grand Canal (Sotheby’s London, July 2005, $32.5 million) were sourced in France. This policy partly led to a drop in Sotheby’s turnover, as the firm is believed to export three times the equivalent of its French sales. It is also at a disadvantage as a “foreign” house in France, compared with Christie’s which benefits from belonging to a French owner, the luxury goods mogul François Pinault.

Tajan, which since 2004 has belonged to the Romanian-American investor Rodica Seward, was among the firms that did poorly in 2005. While she is energetic, she has also lost key people: founder Jacques Tajan’s son François defected to Artcurial last year, and the leading Asian art specialist Thierry Portier, an independent expert who put together sales for Tajan, left last November.

Pierre Bergé et Associés, an auction house created by Pierre Bergé, a former minister of culture under President Mitterrand, boosted turnover by 60% in a year thanks to a sale of antiquarian books and successful jewellery sales in Switzerland.

A surprise success is Camard, a family firm which used to work as specialists of Art Deco for French auctioneers. After the legal changes five years ago, which liberalised auctioneering, it set up its own saleroom. After a tough start it produced excellent results in 2005, benefiting from the current craze for Deco and design. Last year it sold a set of six rediscovered Eileen Gray lacquered chairs for more than $10 million and moved into the eighth place among auction houses in Paris. Camard more than doubled its turnover to €20.6 million in 2005.

o For commentary, see p.24

The top French auction houses

Auction house 2005 turnover 2004 turnover (previous position)

1. Drouot* E414 million (+16%) E356 million (1)

2. Christie’s E115 million (+33% E86.4 million (2)

3. Artcurial E77.6 million (+86.5%) E41.6 million (5)

4. Tajan E69 million (+6%) E65 million (3)

5. Sotheby’s E43.7 million (-17.2%) E52.8 million (4)

6. Pierre Bergé** E35.5 million (+60%) E23 million(6)

*Drouot consists of all the Parisian auction houses but is mainly used for everyday sales. The figures only include sales held in its salerooms. **Some turnover comes from sales in Switzerland