Russian Auction Slump Appears To Have Stabilized
After a lowest-ever total of £17.2m last December, takings from Russian Auction Week in London were down another 5% this June to a new low of £16.4m. There were signs, however, that the market’s descente aux enfers may have plateau’d. The number of lots was stable at just under 1,100 while the selling-rate, which increased by 2% last December, was up a further 1% at 57% – a likely indication that consignors are finally adjusting to new market realities by becoming less greedy.
There was a more relaxed mood in the salerooms than in the previous two Auction Weeks, possibly fuelled by news that the price for oil had just risen to over $50.3 a barrel, its highest since July 2015, and that the ruble was 6% stronger against the pound than it had been last December.
In terms of market-share, Sotheby’s comfortably outperformed Christie’s: the gap widened slightly from 22.4% to 23.8%. Sotheby’s auction total of £8.3m was, however, their lowest-ever during Russian Week and only the second time they have failed to clear £10m. Christie’s market-share fell by 4% to 26.8%; MacDougall’s progressed by 7.5% to 20.4%. Bonhams’ continued their inexorable descent into Russian market irrelevance with a sale total of £352,000 – the lowest-ever recorded by a firm during Russian Week. Bonhams’ market-share, which used to hover at around 8%, now stands at just over 2%.
There were sharp differences among firms when it came to the overall buy-in rate (percentage of lots unsold): this was 32% at Sotheby’s and just 26% at Christie’s, but 57% at MacDougall’s and a whopping 61% at Bonham’s. The figures for Christie’s and Sotheby’s are promisingly low, and may bode well for market recovery.
Just one lot during the week – Sotheby’s Shishkin – cleared £1m. Sotheby’s and MacDougall’s carved up the Top Ten between them, with MacDougall’s posting three prices in the top six and Sotheby’s seven in the first ten. Top price at Christie’s was a short-of-estimate £194,500 for an Ayvazovsky; at Bonhams, just £35,000 for a small Makovsky portrait.
Fine Art (Pictures & Sculpture) accounted for 70% of all sales, up 2% from December, with Sotheby’s occupying over half this market. MacDougall’s comfortably out-performed Christie’s to occupy second spot.
The volume of Fine Art offered remained constant at just under 600 lots, and takings were almost identical too – £11.5m compared to £11.7m last December. The selling-rate rose 1% to 49%. All these figures suggest the market has attained welcome stability after a period of severe turbulence.
WORKS OF ART
Christie’s boosted their undisputed superiority in Works Of Art: their market-share lead over Sotheby’s now stands at an impregnable-looking 15%, having narrowed to 8% last December.
Works Of Art accounted for 57% of Christie’s sales – but only 21% of Sotheby’s and just 4.5% of MacDougall’s.
Overall, Russian Works Of Art performed indifferently this June: the number of lots offered was around the same as last December, but takings plummeted 17% from £5.5m to £4.6m, with the selling-rate down from 65% to 59%. There was a dearth of front-rank Fabergé on offer – a likely sign that Fabergé owners are determined not to sell until the market picks up.
In terms of auction-house performance, recent trends were resoundingly confirmed: Sotheby’s remain comfortably the prime mover in the field as a whole; Christie’s dominate Works Of Art; MacDougall’s rank number two, ahead of Christie’s, for Pictures; and Bonhams seem to have lost interest.
More generally: stable results, as compared to those achieved at Russian Auction Week last December, suggest the worst of the market-slump may be behind us – although tentative signs of an impending recovery seem slightly stronger for Pictures than for Works of Art. The auction-houses appear, at last, to have persuaded consignors to accept realistic reserves – an important first step to market recovery. The second – a continued rise in oil prices and the value of the ruble – is beyond their control.
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A full report on Russian Art Week will be published by Russian Art + Culture on June 24. For more information in the meantime, please contact International Editor Simon Hewitt – firstname.lastname@example.org