Detail of Alice Baber, Wind Divided Mist the Darker (1972)
Sold for $550,000 at Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated sale in September 2023
The third quarter of the auction sales calendar typically accounts for only 4-5% of the total annual sales value. However, after a more challenging first half this year (auction sales by Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips were down 18.2%), we have taken a closer look at Q3 to see if there were any interesting emerging trends and what they might tell us about the season ahead.
Confidence returning as auction sales rise 8% in Q3 2023: Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips generated $642 million in total auction sales (incl. buyer’s premium) in Q3 this year, up 8% from $595 million in Q3 in 2022. This is the highest Q3 sales figure since 2020, when the majority of Q2 sales were moved into Q3. The number of lots also saw a 9% year-on-year increase in sales in the last quarter. The downward slide in Q1 and Q2 seems to have halted, and a majority of collecting segments are either up or have consolidated around last year’s level. Two notable exceptions were Watches and Jewellery (a 30% fall in auction sales Q3) and Design and Decorative Arts & Furniture (down 47%).
Old Masters market drove sales growth: After robust auction sales growth in 2022 (+14%), the Old Masters market continued to grow in Q3, with sales ending up at $140m, more than double that of Q3 in 2022 ($64 million). If the trend continues, the Old Masters market is on track to exceed last year’s sales result. Notable top lots from this season were the unpublished and previously unknown painting by Michael Sweerts, The Artist’s Studio with a Seamstress, which achieved a hammer price of £10.7 million surpassing the pre-sale estimate of £2 million to £3 million, as well as the guaranteed painting Pentecost by the Master of the Baroncelli Portraits, which sold for £7 million.
Post-war and Contemporary sales unchanged from 2022: The overall sales of Post-War and Contemporary art came in at $142 million in Q3 2023, the same level as in 2022. However, we have seen a 11% decline in sales at the lower end of the contemporary market based on Phillips New Now, Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated and Christie’s First Open sales. This could signal that buyers are gravitating towards blue-chip artists in the higher price segments.
Growth across all the three auction houses: Sotheby’s gained the largest market share in Q3 2023, with $331 million in auction sales (+13% from Q3 2022), followed by Christie’s with 46% market share and $277 million in sales (+1.3% from Q3 2022). Phillips accounted for 5% of total sales, and registered a 19% increase from the same period last year.
London sales bounces back: Auction sales in London jumped 40% in Q3 2023 compared to the same period last year. Total sales ended up $294 million, up from $210 million in 2022. The results were driven by strong Old Masters sales in July and Sotheby’s Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own auctions in September that generated $39 million (well above its high estimate of $11.3 million). The renewed energy in the London market bodes well for the upcoming October auctions during Frieze week.
Christie’s 10th anniversary auction in Shanghai: Between 23 -28th September, Christie’s celebrated its 10thyear in Shanghai with four auction sales (3 evening sales and 1 online sale) that raised $181 million (incl. buyer’s premium), and came in at the higher end of the estimate range. The results are a sign that demand among Chinese mainland buyers remains robust and could signal that confidence is returning ahead of Hong Kong season starting this week. Hong Kong auction sales saw a 12% year-on-year decline in first half of this year.
Top 10 Auction Sales in Q3 2023
|Sale||Auction House||Date||Premium Total|
|Old Masters Part I||Christie’s London||6 July 2023||$68,604,053|
|Old Master & 19th Century Paintings Evening Auction||Sotheby’s London||5 July 2023||$49,598,600|
|Post-War to Present||Christie’s New York||29 September 2023||$28,244,412|
|Contemporary Curated||Sotheby’s New York||28 September 2023||$25,060,769|
|10th Shanghai Auction Anniversary: 20th/21st Century Art Evening Sale||Christie’s Shanghai||23 September 2023||$17,049,305|
|Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own | The Evening Sale||Sotheby’s London||6 September 2023||$15,214,984|
|The Exceptional Sale||Christie’s London||6 July 2023||$14,262,845|
|Important Chinese Art||Sotheby’s New York||19 September 2023||$14,062,205|
|Latin American Art||Christie’s New York||28 September 2023||$13,200,030|
|Important Jewels||Sotheby’s New York||12 September 2023||$13,131,800|