auctions provide buoyancy for arts and culture industry disrupted by pandemic

PARIS, Feb. 17, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — As museums continue seeking solutions to allow them to welcome visitors again (even in small numbers and even if it means running at a loss like the MET in New York[1]), the auction market has become a safety net for certain institutions, and, initial results in 2021 are showing a high level of demand in auction rooms!

Global number of Fine Art works auctioned in the month of January (2000-2021)
Global number of Fine Art works auctioned in the month of January (2000-2021)


Global turnover from Fine Art auctions in the month of January (2000-2021)
Global turnover from Fine Art auctions in the month of January (2000-2021)

January… Old Masters month

With a 10% fall in turnover in 2020, the Old Masters (artists born before 1760) segment appears to have better withstood the impacts of the pandemic than other segments. This is probably due to the fact that a substantial proportion of the year’s sales the Old Masters segment represents a remarkably solid market.

"Old Master collectors are looking for the ‘right piece’ rather than the thrill of the moment," observes thierry Ehrmann, President and Founder of and its Artprice Department. "The Old Masters market is by nature less sensitive to the temporary absence of fairs, large openings and gala dinners. Moreover, it’s a market that actually appreciates extensive research and is happy to wade through detailed reports by experts… all of which can be done online."

The battle to acquire the Portrait of a young man holding a roundel, attributed to Botticelli, ultimately brought together just two collectors. But these two determined bidders raised the price of the work to Sotheby’s very audacious estimate in the midst of a global pandemic. Announced in September 2020, its sale deliberately left three months for all concerned to conduct the necessary research.

London, held back by its covid variant… and Brexit

The British capital usually hosts the year’s second round of major sales. In February 2020, three paintings fetched over $20 million each at London sales:

  • The Splash (1966) by David Hockney
  • A la rencontre du plaisir (1962) by René Magritte
  • Portrait of Marjorie Ferry (1932) by Tamara De Lempicka

But the health crisis has led to the postponement of London’s first major sales of the year to March 2021. Moreover, the effective withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union risks weakening London’s dominant position in this part of the world. Paris obviously hopes to benefit from this reorganization.

The French capital is also continuing to attract more and more top talent from the Art Market. Since the beginning of the year, two of Italy’s most powerful galleries, Continua and Massimo de Carlo, have opened in the Marais District, while Sotheby’s is preparing to sell Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s prestigious collection in Paris.

The next few weeks promise to be exciting on the art market, both at auctions and in art galleries… some reassuring news ahead of the reopening of museums in Europe.

1 Julia Jacobs, Is Seeing That Renoir Essential? In the Pandemic, Cities Differ, The New York Times, 2 February 2021



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