Art Market

Despite an online boost, auction houses saw a 49 percent drop in sales in the first half of 2020.

Justin Kamp
Jul 23, 2020 4:47PM, via Financial Times

Oliver Barker conducts Sotheby’s virtual auction on June 30th. Photo courtesy Sotheby’s.

Auction sales are roughly half of what they were at this time last year, according to ArtTactic’s “Auction Review—1st Half 2020” report, which was published this week and cited by the Financial Times. The report took stock of the total sales at Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips made through July 10, 2020, and found that cumulative sales across these top three auction houses fell from $5.7 billion over the same period last year to $2.9 billion.

The nearly 50 percent drop in sales came in spite of vastly increased online sales. Between the three auction houses, online auction totals have increased by roughly 500 percent as compared to the same period last year, from $69 million in the first half of 2019 to $412.6 million this year. Sotheby’s in particular accounted for a large portion of that increase, with its online sales raking in $305.2 million thus far in 2020—a roughly 976 percent increase from last year’s sales from the equivalent period.

Despite their small impact on the bottom line, these online sales have proven to be a boon for the three leading auction houses, which had previously seen a decrease of 97 percent back in May, according to a report by art market analytics start-up Pi-eX. Since then, a slate of live-streamed sales replacing previously postponed or cancelled major in-person auctions have helped usher in bidders.

Sotheby’s looks to increase its newly-expanded online sales share next week with another live-streamed auction, “Rembrandt to Richter,” scheduled to take place on July 28th at the firm’s London salesroom. The sale has a high estimate of £186 million ($236.5 million), and will feature a works by Joan Miró and Henri Matisse from the collection of billionaire investor and collector Ronald Perelman.

Further Reading: Three Key Takeaways from the Hiscox Online Art Market Report

Further Reading: $46.2-Million Lichtenstein Nude Drives Christie’s Global Relay Auction

Further Reading: $84.5-Million Francis Bacon Triptych Leads Sotheby’s Marathon Virtual Auction

Justin Kamp
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Jenna Gribbon, Luncheon on the grass, a recurring dream, 2020. Jenna Gribbon, April studio, parting glance, 2021. Jenna Gribbon, Silver Tongue, 2019