Art market boom benefits Christie's and Sotheby's

By Deborah Brewster

The boom in the art market has handed strong results to the two big auction houses, with Christie's and Sotheby's together selling about $7bn worth of artworks in the first six months of the year - 12 per cent more than last year.

Christie's said yesterday it had total worldwide sales of £1.8bn ($3.6bn), a rise of 10 per cent on the same period last year. That includes both auction sales and private treaty sales.

It sold 457 works for more than $1m each, compared with 430 sold in the same period last year.

Christie's is privately owned by French billionaire Francois Pinault, and does not provide profits or revenue. Ed Dolman, the chief executive of Christie's, said: "Christie's robust results for the first half of 2008 reflect the ongoing strength of the international art market... Christie's extensive international network has introduced an increasing number of buyers to the international art market from growth markets including Russia and the CIS States, the Middle East, India and China."

Sotheby's, which is publicly traded, said it had auction sales of $3bn in the first half.

However, it said its big contemporary art sale was held in early July, a few days after Christie's equivalent sale in late June.

If that sale were included in Sotheby's sales, the total would be $3.1bn. Its private sales will be released in August, the group said.

Christie's said Europe and the UK comprised £837m in sales, and the US £631m. Asia and the Middle East contributed £179m, and Dubai - reported separately - contributed £20m. Christie's said its growth in Asia alone was 63 per cent, as Chinese and Indian buyers emerge as increasingly big buyers of both their own art and western art.

Despite the widely reported growth in contemporary art, Impressionist and Modern works were the single biggest category at Christie's, selling £497m, just ahead of post-war and contemporary art, which contributed £408m.

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