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​French market appeal…

[01 Aug 2017]

Although the French art market is recognised as offering exceptional overall quality, when it comes to fetching the best (highest) prices, France is still unable to stop historical masterpieces by its national artists from crossing the Channel or the Atlantic to be sold in London or New York. However, since the beginning of the 2017, fifteen important artworks have crossed the $2 million threshold in French auction houses, a success that appears to have been driven by a combination of excellent information diffusion within the country and the strong appeal of French auction catalogs to foreign collectors.

With approximately $315 million in auction turnover on Fine Art (excluding vintage cars, furniture, etc.) for the first half of 2017 (up 3.4% on H1 2016), the French art market is looking in better shape. In the auction sphere, a single well orchestrated sale can make all the difference, so it is not surprising to see 20% of that total generated by just two sales, one at Christie’s in March and the other at Sotheby’s in June (both in Paris). The first was a triumphal session dedicated to works by Diego GIACOMETTI (1902-1985) (Alberto’s brother) from the collection of the famous couturier Hubert de Givenchy (Christie’s, 6 March) where every lot found a buyer; the second was a Contemporary Art sale at Sotheby’s which posted a record turnover total for a Contemporary art sale in the French capital. Each sale generated more than $32 million, and both elicited strong demand for major works by 19th and 20th century French artists, with new auction records for Auguste Rodin, Camille Claudel, Pierre Soulages and Zao Wou-ki.

While the French market competes with London and New York to sell works by Camille Claudel, the vast majority of her works are still located in France (63% of Claudel lots sell in France, generating 34% of her global auction turnover). Among these, some of her sculptures change hands within an average price range of $10,000 to $30,000, while others are valued in millions. On June 11, one of Camille Claudel’s most coveted subjects (La Valse) was offered by a provincial auctioneer, Rouillac, at the Château d’Artigny in Montbazon (Indre region). The presence at this auction of La Valse – one of the most universally appreciated sculptures in 19th century art – followed the kind of story the market craves, and one that occurs regularly in France: a work resurfaces after a century of neglect… in this case, from a family house in the Oise region. The bidding soared to $1.31 million, fetching twice the estimate and signing a new record for this subject on French territory… and even more impressive for being hammered outside Paris.

The development of France’s international reputation and its digital communications are both key factors in enhancing the country’s attractiveness and preventing the sale of significant works in other countries. France’s Paris-based auction company Artcurial has integrated these considerations into its business model and now manages to register 70% foreign buyers on certain sales… with some of its results matching New York results: on 30 May 2017 Auguste RODIN’s marble statue Andromède sold for three times its estimate when it fetched €3.67 million euro (c. $4,1 million) at Artcurial in Paris.

In addition, the global art market’s recent revaluation of France’s 20th century abstract artists represents a real opportunity for the French art market. Pierre SOULAGES, France’s most expensive living artist, is supported by a number of powerful galleries around the world, including Emmanuel Perrotin. The fact that his latest auction record was recently hammered in France (at more than $6 million), proves the growing attractiveness of the French market compared with its closest rival, London. For the record… Soulages’ price index has risen 484% since 2000.

In recent months, besides Soulages, France’s other major abstract artists, Zao Wou-Ki, Nicolas de Staël, Jean-Paul Riopelle and Simon Hantaï, have generated some of the best Parisian auction results. As a major focus of postwar abstraction, Paris is capturing strong bidding in this dynamic market segment. Soulages’ success, like Zao Wou-ki’s, illustrates the vitality and attractiveness of the French market this year. In addition, the French art market is both broad and deep: every year, “lost” Old Master or Modern artworks emerge onto this particularly dense market, and its auction operators are using their knowledge and professionalism to lever a number of highly-specialised market segments currently enjoying strong price momentum, such as Comics, Urban Art and Contemporary African art.


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