Christie’s Sales Rise 16% as Contemporary Sales Increase

Christie’s International, the largest auction house, said sales of art and collectibles rose 16 percent last year amid a boom in purchases of contemporary works and demand from Asia.

The auction house sold 4.54 billion pounds ($7.48 billion) of art and collectibles in 2013, setting a record for the company for the fourth straight year, London-based Christie’s said today in an e-mailed statement.

With interest rates low and central banks pumping money into economies, the world’s growing population of wealthy individuals is spending increasing amounts on art, particularly contemporary works. New registrants represented 30 percent of the buyers at Christie’s in 2013 as the auction house expanded in China and India.

“The number of individuals entering the market is growing every year,” Steven P. Murphy, Christie’s chief executive officer, said in a telephone interview. “For many of them, the first port of call is contemporary art. These days works by artists like Warhol, Lichtenstein, Rothko and Koons are hugely popular.”

Growth was led by postwar and contemporary art auctions, which raised 1.3 billion pounds with fees, up 29 percent from 2012. Christie’s $691.6-million evening sale in New York on Nov. 12 was the most expensive auction in history.

Lured by investment-grade names such as these, the U.S. supplied the highest proportion of Christie’s buyers in 2013, at 34 percent, said Matthew Paton, a spokesman. New York was Christie’s most lucrative auction center, raising 1.8 billion pounds of sales, a 34 percent increase from 2012.

Breeding Confidence

“The success of the art market in 2012 gave owners the confidence to consign in 2013,” Murphy said.

Francis Bacon’s 1969 triptych “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” was Christie’s top seller as it fetched $142.4 million - - a record for any work of art at auction -- in New York in November. Bought by Elaine P. Wynn, the ex-wife of casino magnate Stephen A. Wynn, it was one of 58 works that sold for more than $10 million at Christie’s in 2013.

Christie’s is a closely held company owned by the French billionaire Francois Pinault. The auction house was acquired by Pinault’s holding company, Artemis SA, for $1.2 billion in 1998. Christie’s doesn’t report revenue or profit, though it gives sale totals twice a year.

“Our contemporary evening sales are extremely profitable events,” Murphy said. “The highest margin is on works that sell for between 200,000 pounds and 5 million pounds. Though not all the works make us a profit, even a small margin on a top lot can represent a lot of money.”

Asian Art

Impressionist and modern artworks, the big money-makers for the auction houses during the 1980s, were Christie’s second-most lucrative auction category, with sales of 644.7 million pounds, down 1 percent from 2012.

Christie’s auction sales of Asian art rose 44 percent to 599 million pounds. Chinese buyers accounted for 22 percent of the company’s sales, showing the nation’s growing clout in the global art market.

Private sales, highlighted by auction houses as a significant growth area in recent years, advanced 20 percent at Christie’s to 760.5 million pounds.

Christie’s New York-based rival, Sotheby’s, intends to publish its consolidated 2013 figures, comprising both auction and private sales, in late February, Lauren Gioia, a spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.

Sotheby’s raised about $5.1 billion in auction sales in 2013, said Gioia. Christie’s equivalent salesroom auctions took $5.9 billion, according to the London-based company’s statement.