Paris posts good results at its Spring Sales

[18 Jun 2019]

Over the last couple of weeks, Post-War and Contemporary art has generated very good auction results in Paris. The French ‘stars’ of the market like Nicolas de Stael, Pierre Soulages and the German-French artist Hans Hartung all performed well, while the Sino-French artists posted superb results having become increasingly attractive to international collectors. Christie’s owes the success of its sales to bidders from 27 countries while Sotheby’s registered participants from 46 countries. The two auctioneers generated $68.3 million in three days of sales (3 to 6 June) – $31.6 million at Christie’s and $36.7 million at Sotheby’s – and several results above the million-dollar threshold.

Christie’s and Sotheby’s take pride of place on the French market

Nicolas DE STAËL (1914-1955) generated Christies best result of $3.2 million for Paysage de Vaucluse No. 3 (1953). Never auctioned before the 4 June sale, the painting sold for three times its high estimate. In the equivalent sales last year, Christies set the French record for de Stael by selling one of his canvases for nearly $10 million ($9.76 million including fees), a record comparable to de Staël’s New York results. The same sale also sold works by Germaine Richier, Wifredo Lam and Pierre Soulages above the $2 million threshold.

Meanwhile, Sotheby’s Contemporary Art sales were also dominated by an excellent Soulages painting (Peinture 130 x 89 cm, 2 mars 1961, which fetched $3 million), along with an impressive 1950s Calder mobile (Untitled, selling for $2.85 million), a superb Hartung from 1949 (T1949-6 for $1.7 million) and a rare Zao Wou Ki painting from 1957 (Temps Calme, for $2.175 million). The best result was hammered for a composition by Jean Dubuffet La chaise (1964) – which fetched $3.9 million on 5 June, more than doubling its previous purchase price of $1.7 million at Christies New York (14 November 2012).

These results show that Paris is not just a canton of the global market, but rather an important driver of the international scene. At the recent sales, New York’s MoMA went through Sotheby’s Paris branch to sell a painting by Mark TOBEY. Fetching $850,000 the work added $300,000 to its high estimate.

 Artcurial hammers French records for Zao Wou ki and Chu Teh Chun

Artcurial’s Contemporary Art auction (4 June) made $20 million, more than doubling its aggregate estimate. Half of this total came from two canvases, one by Zao Wou Ki, the other by Chu Teh Chun. ZAO Wou-Ki’s 24.1.61 / 62 sold for $5.2 million while CHU Teh-Chun’s Synthèse hivernale C (1988) fetched $5.8 million, more than three its high estimate.

> For the two Sino-French artists, both results represent new highs in France and in Europe as a whole.

Paris is therefore clearly the next in line behind Hong Kong for the sale of these abstract masters, whose prices are currently enjoying rapid inflation. The success of Artcurial’s sale owes much to growing international demand: the French auctioneer says 80% of it registered bidders were non-French compared with 70-75% in 2016-2017. With Chu Teh Chun’s Synthèse hivernale C, Artcurial has hammered this year’s best result (so far) for a Contemporary artwork in Paris.

Piasa: a record sale of African Art

A hot segment of the Art Market, Contemporary African Art is doing particularly well in France. Auctioneer Piasa is imposing itself as the specialist on the sector with results showing a steep increase. Its specialized sale of 15 May 2019 generated a record total of $1.455 million, up 260% versus its specialized sale of 17 November 2016.

With some bids at 10 times the estimates and lots of new records, the results were extremely convincing, especially for young African artists: there were new records for the Ugandan Joseph Ntensibe ($43,700 vs. a low estimate of $9,000) and the Congolese artist Aboudia ($78,600 vs. a low estimate of $20,000). A canvas by the young Anjel (born 1993 and previously unknown on the secondary market) also surprised by fetching $11,000. This trend reveals the French market’s predilection for the discovery of new African artists… and that includes all kinds of collectors!


The next big event on the French market takes us to the South of France where the famous “Toulouse CARAVAGGIO” will be offered to the highest bidder on 27 June under Marc Labarbe’s hammer. The work is being sold in Toulouse rather than New York because, according to art expert Eric Turquin, the story began in Toulouse (where the painting was found) and because today, the means of communication are such that a painting can be sold anywhere in the world without any difficulty. Thirty years after the historic Parisian sale of Pablo Picasso’s The Marriage of Pierrette (1905), this impressive Judith et Holopherne could mark a new milestone in the history of the French art market.