The paradoxes of the Belgian art market


In Belgium, the art auction market has showed no signs of contraction this year and indeed has posted good results via the auction houses De Vuyst, Piasa Bruxelles, Louiza Auktion, Bonhams Cornette de Saint- Cyr Bruxelles and Horta, which together have generated more than 60% of the country’s art auction turnover. But their results would be much higher if the top-selling Belgian artists were actually bought and sold on the country’s domestic market.

Magritte’s rising prices have hardly benefited the Belgian art market

The unclassifiable ‘Surrealist’ artist, René Magritte is one of the most popular and expensive artists on the international market. His paintings have been constantly revalued over the last twenty years, both in terms of their value and their museum visibility. At auction, his annual turnover has tripled in ten years and Magritte is now one of the ten top-selling artists in the world (all creative periods and mediums combined). Unfortunately this superb market success does little for Magritte’s home country, Belgium, and it is measured first and foremost in the market places of London, Paris, New York, and even Hong Kong, ahead of Brussels.

Among his seven most expensive paintings sold this year (all sold between 10 and 42 million dollars at auction) none were sold in Brussels, Antwerp or Lokeren, Belgium’s three main art market places. This represents a substantial shortfall considering that the country only generates between 55 and 65 million dollars every year, and that the sale of one or two major paintings by Magritte could double the country’s overall auction turnover.

Belgium’s top-selling artist of the year is a French Pop artist

Somewhat surprisingly, the most popular artist in Belgium this year is a rather bling-bling French artist, Richard Orlinski. The French sculptor essentially creates shiny animals (crocodiles, panthers, gorillas, elephants, etc.) as well as figures drawn from popular culture (Mickey, Superman, King Kong, etc.). He creates these creatures in series, using various materials such as resin, stainless steel, aluminum, gilded bronze, glass, marble and even gold.

Although art critics are fairly dismissive of his work, Orlinski is very popular with wealthy buyers, often from the world of show business, and Orlinski appears in several national rankings: the top-selling artist of the year in Belgium after a gorilla sculpture fetched over a million dollars, he is also France’s second top-selling Contemporary artist behind Robert Combas (based on sales of his work in France).

Geographical distribution of Richard Orlinski’s auction turnover in 2023 (copyright

Aside from this notable attraction of collectors towards Orlinski’s bestiary, Artmarket finds that the markets of the other top-selling Contemporary Belgian artists all have similar profiles to that of René Magritte’s work.

The top-selling Belgian Contemporary artists of the year

This year, three Belgian Contemporaries elicited auction results in excess of $500,000: Luc Tuymans, an immense artist whose works have been acquired by most major museums since the 1990s (MoMA, Pinacothèque in Munich, Guggenheim Museum, Pompidou Center, etc.), but also Ben Sledsens, whose auction record was updated in June this year when his canvas Throwing Dice multiplied its high estimate sixfold ($636,400), and lastly the painter Michael Borremans, three of whose works have already fetched 7-digit results at auction in the past.

These powerful results unambiguously demonstrate the vitality of the Belgian Contemporary scene. However, the three works in question were dispersed in London, a city which competes with New York for the most popular artists from Belgium. Thus the market for Belgian Contemporary artists suffers from the same paradox as the market for Belgian Modern artists, namely that works by the most popular and internationally sought-after Belgian artists are sold first and foremost abroad. The phenomenon is so significant that more than 80% of the annual turnover generated by Belgian Contemporary artists is hammered in countries outside Belgium.

Geography of the auction turnover from Luc Tuymans’ work in 2023 (copyright

Geography of the auction turnover from Harold Ancart’s work in 2023 (copyright

The most successful Contemporary Belgian artists in their own country

The price levels are much lower than those observed for the most successful Belgian Contemporaries on the international scene. Indeed, the best result of the year recorded in Belgium for a Belgian Contemporary artist is just $95,720 for a work by Rin Van de Velde sold in Lokeren, whereas a work by Luc Tuymans, the top-selling Belgian Contemporary artist, reached $1.8 million in London.

The best results for Belgian Contemporary art in Belgium highlight a diverse range of mediums and approaches, rewarding both drawing and comics, abstract painting and sculpture. They also highlight an artist as promising as Rin Van De Velde (represented by the Max Hetzler gallery established in Berlin, Paris, London and Marfa): the growing success of this virtuoso drawer is – for the time being – benefiting the local market more than the bastions of the international art market. But the competition promises to be tough because collectors in Germany, the UK, France and the United States (the four countries in which the Max Hetzler gallery is present) are all interested.

Top 10 auctions Belgian results in 2023 for Belgian Contemporary artists

$95,720 : Rin VAN DE VELDE, Untitled (2010)

De Vuyst, Lokeren, 04/03/2023

$82,736 : Francis ALYS, Untitled, Mexico (1987)

Native Auctions, Bruxelles, 21/10/2023

$80,319 : Rin VAN DE VELDE, Out of a lack of inspiration… (2016)

De Vuyst, Lokeren, 20/05/2023

$77,074 : Philippe GELUCK, Le collectionneur (2017)

De Vuyst, Lokeren, 04/03/2023

$60,861 : Koen VANMECHELEN, Face off – C.C.P, Meda (2013)

Bonhams Cornette de Saint-Cyr Brussels, 04/23/2023

$55,328 : Albert William, Party Time 7 (2020)

Bonhams Cornette de Saint-Cyr Brussels, 04/23/2023

$52,561 : Yves ZURSTRASSEN, Sunny Day, 16 12 16 (2016)

Bonhams Cornette de Saint-Cyr Brussels, 04/23/2023

$48,593 : Patrick VILLAS, Grande Tigre (2005)

De Vuyst, Lokeren, 21/10/2023

$45,165 : Philippe VANDENBERG, Schilderij (1985)

Carlo Bonte Auctions, Bruges, 03/10/2023

$38,609 : Michel FRERE, Untitled (1991)

Native Auctions, Bruxelles, 21/10/2023