sold $3.1 billion of art during the first half of the year, a 10% drop from the year-earlier period and a sign that the art market could be hitting speed bumps after several zippy seasons.
Collectors are still chasing hard after middle-market pieces priced under $20 million, but market watchers said fewer appear willing to ante up for the $100 million-plus trophy pieces that once piqued the interest of top collectors the world over. The auction house said concerns over Brexit also took a toll.
ArtTactic, a London firm that tracks auction performance, said in a report last week that newly wealthy Asian buyers also appear to be scaling back after several years of nonstop art shopping, a spree that buoyed sales of Asian art as well as Western categories of modern art and jewelry.
Sotheby’s total includes $511 million in privately brokered art sales, down 6% from a year ago, the New York-based company said on Tuesday, as well as $2.6 billion in art auction sales, down 8.7%.
Sotheby’s rival Christie’s said last week it auctioned off $2.8 billion of art during the first half of the year, down 22% from a year ago. The privately owned house said it would wait until the end of the year to divulge sums for any additional, private art sales.
Christie’s said it plans to keep fighting hard for consignments at the top end of the market, having sold 60% of the highest-priced pieces that came to market during the first half; it said it sold 83% of its auction offerings overall.
Sotheby’s is undergoing a season of flux as it prepares to go private, having agreed last month to be bought by French telecom tycoon Patrick Drahi for $2.7 billion, ending its 31-year run as a public company. Mr. Drahi will pay $57 a share in cash for the house. On Tuesday, the company’s shares closed at $58.90.
Tad Smith, Sotheby’s chief executive, said in he was pleased with the house’s sales for the first half and said the proposed buyout remains on track.
Among individual categories in the first half of the year, Sotheby’s sold $851.1 million in contemporary art, down 9% from a year earlier, and $697.7 million in impressionist and modern art, a 5.5% decline. The house sold $125.3 million in jewelry, as well as $126.2 million of art online.
Sotheby’s top sale during the first half was a $110.7 million Claude Monet painting of “Haystacks” that sold in May to an unidentified woman who sat in the second-to-last row of Sotheby’s salesroom in New York. Christie’s top lot for the season was a $91 million “Rabbit” sculpture by Jeff Koons.
The art market tends to quiet down in August but will get tested anew at fall sales in London, Hong Kong and New York.
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Appeared in the July 31, 2019, print edition as ‘Sotheby’s Faces Slower Art Market.’