The hindsight is obvious. In 2020, the amount of auctions in France, all sectors combined (art, automobiles and horses), established by a study by the Voluntary Sales Council (CVV), the regulatory authority for the French market, amounted to 2.9 billion euros – a drop of 14% compared to 2019, “Greater than the drop in gross domestic product over the same period (- 8.3%), and higher than that felt during the 2008 financial crisis (- 8.1%) ”, specifies the survey published Thursday, June 17, in partnership with Beaux Arts Magazine. On the only niche of art and collectibles sales, which totaled 1.2 billion euros, the plunge is even more dizzying, of the order of 22%. Thus, Drouot saw its turnover decline, from 302 million euros in 2019 to 129 million in 2020.
In normal times, there would be something to panic. However, with a year marked with the Covid-19 seal, this decline was predictable. During the first confinement, in spring 2020, the sales rooms had to lower the curtain. The most significant dispersions have been postponed to 2021. However, fewer large collections mean fewer records, and therefore less energy.
« The taste for a beautiful object has not disappeared ”, assures however Henri Paul, president of the CVV, recalling that “France has maintained its rank”. As every year, France occupies fourth place on the global art market, after China, which has just dethroned the United States, and Great Britain, which, despite the combined effects of the Covid -19 and Brexit, reduced its losses to 10%.
Without upsetting the hierarchies, the pandemic has reshuffled the cards. Until 2019, the largest French houses recorded stronger growth than the small ones. In 2020, it was the opposite, notes the report: the operators most affected by the crisis have a turnover of more than 5 million euros in sales. In the first place, the behemoths Christie’s and Sotheby’s, which show respective decreases of 17% and 56%, without losing their hegemony over the segment of works of art.
“The top of the basket suffered more than the rest”
Conversely, a small traditional auction house like Beaussant Lefèvre posted a balance sheet up 41% in 2020. To its credit, it is true, the record auction of the year, a batch of two rare Chinese albums by the Yongle Dadian encyclopedia, sold for 8.1 million euros. “The smallest French structures are light, more responsive. They do not need to sort through the objects to keep only the most expensive, as multinationals are required to do ”, comments Henri Paul, specifying that “The top of the basket suffered more than the rest ».
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