The auction market in France saw a dramatic uptick in 2022, with a spectacular 50 percent increase in overall sales across all categories compared to 2020 and nearly 30 percent up from the pre-pandemic 2019. The surge is even more notable at fine art auctions, private sales, and sales activities involving foreign buyers and consigners.
The figures may further fuel the already high expectations of the country, particularly the city of Paris, to become a leading market in Europe post-Brexit, but the U.K.’s departure from the E.U. is not the only reason for France’s emergence, according to industry insiders.
“For us, the impact of Brexit is not the main reason, even if it obviously has an impact on the market, but it’s still too early to evaluate,” Henri Paul, the president of Conseil des ventes (CVV, or the French Auction Market Authority), told Artnet News.
The auction data and trends showed that “Paris is regaining its former appeal as an auction center. International collectors are once again converging on the capital for the major specialty sales that punctuate the auction calendar,” Paul noted.
CVV surveyed the economic activities of 458 auction houses in France in 2022. The total auction sales proceeds reached €4.378 billion ($4.6 billion) last year, 8.2 percent up from 2021’s total, which the authority explained as a market consolidation following the staggering increase from 2020 and 2019. The 2022 total across all categories represented a 51 percent increase compared to the 2020 total, and 29.7 percent up from that in 2019. The total number of auction houses operating in France also went up from 2021’s 427.
Among the three major categories included in the survey—art and collectibles, used vehicles and industrial equipment, and horses—increase in auction sales of art and collectibles was the most significant. It reached a total of €2.1 billion ($2.2 billion) in 2022, 12.9 percent up from 2021 year-on-year. The 2022 total was 73.9 percent up compared to 2020’s total, and a 34 percent increase from that in 2019.
The high quality of works of art available, the availability of great wealth, and the diverse variety of the market were the key factors for French market expansion, noted Paul. Notable sales from 2022 included the €24.4 million ($26.8 million) sale of () by the 18th-century French artist Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin (the work was later on classified as a national treasure) and the Hubert de Givenchy collection at Christie’s in Paris, which totaled €118.1 million ($124.5 million). Christie’s was also the top seller in the art and collectibles category.
The French market also appeared to have grown more international. About €1.5 billion ($1.9 billion), or 35 percent, of the total auction sales in 2022 were sold to foreign buyers, 32 percent up from that in 2021. Private sales became “more popular than ever,” Paul noted. Eighty-four houses said that they were engaged in private sales in 2022, compared to just 19 in 2021. Private sales generated €350 million ($396 million) in 2022, 110 percent increase from 2021’s €167 million ($176 million), a decade after the relaxation of French law which allowed auction houses to engage in private sales.
“After a difficult year with COVID, Paris has showed two extremely good years for the auction market and for the art market in general,” said Paris-based art specialist Etienne Sallon, who was formerly with Christie’s Paris and now works independently with Vande Private Art Sales. “This is the combination of great collections coming at auction together with a post-Brexit energy that has led Paris to position itself as one of the most important places to sell art in Europe.”
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