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Leading investment companies in bidding battle to take control of Drouot, the auction house that groups all the Parisian auctioneers

Investment companies bidding as Bergé drops out

Pierre Bergé, managing director of Yves Saint Laurant, has dropped out of the running to acquire the umbrella grouping of Parisian auctioneers, Drouot, leaving two investment companies, the Dutch ABN-Amro Capital Finance, and the British Barclays Private Equity (BPE), as candidates to take over the company, which groups all the Parisian auctioneers.

BPE is offering €68.6 million (£43.4million; $60.7 million) for Drouot Holding, which owns three salerooms in the capital, plus the juiciest morsel, its company @uctionpress, which publishes La Gazette de l’Hôtel Drouot and Le Moniteur des Ventes. In 2001, Drouot’s turnover was €690 million (£425 million; $617 million).

BPE’s offer is almost double Mr Bergé’s: now he has withdrawn from the Drouot battle, he has said he will found his own auction house.

“Mr Bergé was trying to do a financial deal and buy out auctioneers for a song,” commented the Parisian auctioneer Henri Gros, “[the BPE offer] is much better for restructuring the profession, and takes into account the people involved and their aspirations rather than purely financial objectives”. BPE has promised to invest over €3 million in the main, but now dilapidated saleroom, the Hôtel Drouot. However, by buying Drouot, it would not get the top Parisian auctioneers Tajan, Piasa, Briest or Poulain Le Fur, as these have already formed alliances with other firms: Tajan with Phillips, Piasa with Christie’s, Briest with Orlowski and Poulain Le Fur with Sotheby’s.

A spokesman for ABN-Amro confirmed that it is considering a bid, but would not give any further details.

Another potential buyer, but just for @uctionpress, is Artprice.com, which offers a wide variety of databases available over the internet. @uctionpress owns the weekly La Gazette, which lists Parisian sales, makes about €4 million a year from its 60,000 print run, while the fortnightly Le Moniteur lists judiciary sales. The two publications and an associated website had turnover of FFr110 million (£11 million, $15.4 million) in 2001.

One of the investors in Artprice is Bernard Arnault, who has 17% of the company; he is the owner of Phillips and also of the art market magazine Art and Auction. However, Drouot has already said it would not sell @uctionpress separately.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'The battle for Drouot'

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 123 March 2002