French art market returns to form in 2006



Having missed out on the art market’s growth in 2002-2004, France is finally booming again. Turnover rose by 42% in 2006 to EUR 330 million, while volume sales advanced by 14%. Prices were up by 9% over twelve months though this is still 40% below their 1990 level.
But despite these impressive results, France is still losing market share in the face of an emerging China and the dominance of prestige New York sales at Sotheby’s and Christie’s. France handles just 6.5% of global turnover. International pressure is intense. In just one sale with 78 lots – “Impressionist and Modern Art” on November 8 – Christie’s took USD 491 million (EUR 385 million) or more than the entire turnover at all French fine art auctions for the year. Meanwhile in China, at two fine art sales on November 22 and 23, 2006, China Guardian turned over the equivalent of EUR 31.5 million, beating the modern and impressionist art auction in Christie’s Paris on December 1, which had generated the biggest turnover in France for 8 years. The second biggest French auction of the year was held at Claude Aguttes, whose “Impressionist and Modern Paintings, Contemporary Art, Photographs” of December 20, brought in EUR 13.6 million (excluding fees), including a top bid of EUR 3.6 million for Pablo Pablo PICASSO’s Homard et chat sur la plage.

In Paris, thirteen lots went for over a million euros in 2006, compared to just three in 2005. The top price was paid for a Henri MATISSE canvas, Jeune Fille au Anémones sur Fond Violet, knocked down for EUR 4.6 million at Christie’s on December 1. Many of these exceptional results are directly attributable to an American influence, such as the record EUR 2.25 million paid for a Joan MITCHELL canvas at Artcurial on October 28, 2006, or the EUR 1.9 million for Eiffel Tower, a collaboration between Andy WARHOL and Jean-Michel BASQUIAT sold on May 17 at Tajan.There were also some excellent results in contemporary art sales, a segment that usually grows fast in the boom times. Notable results included the EUR 1.06 million paid in July at Sotheby’s Paris for a 1959 Pierre SOULAGES canvas that had been estimated at EUR 300,000-400,000, for which a French collector outbid an American. Similarly, a monumental Hervé TELEMAQUE estimated at EUR 40,000-60,000 unexpectedly reached EUR 250,000 at Christie’s. In the photography market, BRASSAÏ made a new record on October 3 with a single print entitled Pavés (1931), sold for EUR 85,000 by Million & Associés.