Drawing and its market

[05 Apr 2016]


In Paris, three drawing fairs (Le Salon du dessin, Drawing Now and DDESSIN) focus on a medium of prime importance to art history, but unfortunately still somewhat overshadowed by painting, sculpture and even photography. In recent years, however, drawing has enjoyed a significant increase in demand due firstly to a number of superb exhibitions devoted to its various forms and secondly to the growing interest of collectors in this type of art.

In the Contemporary art spectrum, works on paper are beginning to carve out an entirely new space, a development that has prompted the art fair Drawing Now to organise an annual symposium to discuss some of the major issues associated with the drawing medium such as collecting, exhibiting, storage-conservation and teaching. As part of these discussions, Artprice was invited to talk about the recent growth in demand that has affected the drawing segment of the art market.

For anyone wishing to participate or take an interest in the drawing market, awareness of its key figures provides a very useful starting point. In fact, considering the exceptionally strong growth of the drawing segment in recent years, an overview of the market, of its structure, of its evolution and of the way it functions is absolutely vital. For example, global auction turnover in the drawing segment multiplied by 6 between 2005 and 2015, from $500 million to $3 billion, whereas the number of transactions only doubled. There was therefore a sharp increase in the average price of a drawing during this period, rising from $7,000 to the current average of $22,000 per lot. The average price of a painting was just under $23,000 in 2005 and approximately $45,000 in 2015. So, while works on paper are generally less expensive than paintings, the gap is gradually diminishing.

However, this transformation cannot be understood without appreciating China’s fundamental role in the drawing market. The medium’s global auction results clearly show the strong impact of the People’s Republic on drawing sales: the segment’s best auction results are essentially hammered in China; a large number of the segment’s most successful artists are Chinese and the sharp growth of China’s art market around 2010 coincided with a sudden and very substantial increase in the drawing segment’s share of China’s overall Fine Art auction turnover, from 12% to 40%.

Chinese collectors admire calligraphy and traditional painting above all other forms of art. Both practices, although very different from Western drawing, involve the control and mastery of lines and typically use rice or silk paper as their base. It is therefore perfectly legitimate to consider these works as drawings and China’s greatest historical artists like Zang Daquian or Qi Baishi, but also Contemporaries like Cui Ruzho, are more drawers than painters. Today, the Chinese art market accounts for a substantial share of global revenue on this medium. Mainland China (58%) and Hong Kong (14%) together generate almost three quarters of total auction turnover in the global drawing market.

In the West, drawing is still largely dominated by painting, and this dominance is so strong it even affects the drawing medium’s best results: in 2015 the medium’s top auction price was for a Paul CÉZANNE study of a card player, L’homme à la pipe (1892-1896).

The historical auction record set in 2012 for a drawn version of Edvard Munch’s The Scream already illustrated the market influence of painting on the drawing segment. The piece sold (1895) is one of the five versions of the Munch’s legendary artwork and the only one executed in pastel on a cardboard backing. Although technically a drawing, the work is undoubtedly the fruit of a pictorial approach mainly influenced by painting.

While drawing is undoubtedly intimately related to other artistic media, it nevertheless reflects a profoundly different artistic approach that many people today wish to champion in order to see it appreciated at its true value. Numerous events (exhibitions, fairs, sales, etc.) are now working together to develop our appreciation of drawing and, little by little, its market.