French market

Led by French market stalwart Pierre Soulages, contemporary art sales at Sotheby’s Paris generated an average of $19.8 million

The rise of Paris as an art market hub has become a popular narrative in the context of Brexit and ahead of the arrival of Art Basel in October. But last week’s contemporary art sales at Sotheby’s Paris proved the story is more nuanced than simply “Paris is up, London is down”.

Contemporary art sales at Sotheby’s Paris on June 8 and 10 generated a €24.1 million ($25.1 million). The June 8 evening sale totaled 19 million euros ($19.8 million), just below the high estimate of 19.4 million euros, while Friday’s daily sale brought in 5.2 million euros (5 .4 million dollars).

The two sales saw an increasingly international buyer base converge in Paris, but did not top the equivalent streak last year, which reached 26 million euros. That figure also remains a fraction of the nine-figure sums generated at Sotheby’s summer sales in London last year.

Nevertheless, Guillaume Mallecot, principal director and head of the contemporary art department at Sotheby’s Paris, told Artnet News that he was satisfied. “We had works by John Baldessari, Anselm Kiefer, Miquel Barceló, and Gilbert and George, confirming Paris’ new positioning on the European stage,” he said. “Before, these works would have been offered in London or New York.”

Pierre Soulages, Painting 263 x 181 cm, July 2, 2012 (2012). Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

In general, the auction market in Paris has been on the rise for several years. In 2021, the city generated $1.1 billion in auction sales, its highest total ever and a 30% increase from 2019, according to the latest Artnet News Pro Intelligence Report. Meanwhile, London’s auction revenue fell 12% between 2019 and 2021, to $1.9 billion. In the private market, galleries such as Hauser & Wirth, David Zwirner, Skarstedt, White Cube, Pace and Mariane Ibrahim have settled in the city.

“Paris is becoming more and more important, thanks to new galleries opening spaces here,” said Mallecot. “After the pandemic, it was not easy to bring people back to salesrooms. But we saw a lot of people – other Europeans and Americans – in the exhibition. We are waiting for the Asians to come back [once Asia’s travel restrictions are lifted].”

During the evening sale, 43 lots out of 48 sold. The best-performing was a huge 2012 black painting with horizontal stripes by French artist Pierre Soulages, which fetched €1.7 million, on the lower end of its €1.5-2.5 million estimate. euros. (Final prices include auction fees, but not presale estimates.) Soulages’ auction record is 20.1 million euros for a 1961 painting sold at Sotheby’s New York last November.

“The bidders were international, including Asians and Americans, because Soulages’ market is now global,” Mallecot noted. “His work has been showing good results for two years and the interest is not diminishing.”

Kazuo Shiraga, Untitled (T41) (1962).  Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Kazuo Shiraga, Untitled (T41) (1962). Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Three works tied for second place with a price of €1.66 million each: a black and blue painting by Soulages from 1994, sold within the limits of the estimate; a thickly applied red abstract by Japanese artist Kazuo Shiraga from 1962, which exceeded its high estimate of 1.2 million euros; and a white canvas with multicolored folds by Simon Hantaï around 1969-1973, which touches on its high estimate of €1.5 million.

Interest in Hantaï continues to grow against the backdrop of his monographic exhibition at the Louis Vuitton Foundation, inaugurated last month and marking the centenary of his birth. The white canvas result was the strongest of all the artist’s works not part of his famous “Marian” series.

Simon Hantaï, Study / Blanks (double-sided) (1969-73).  Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Simon Hantai, Study / Blanks (double-sided) (1969-73). Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

At the Friday sale, a 1969 blue and white Hantaï study sold for €201,600, beating its high estimate of €120,000.

Other works that have surpassed the million euro mark include the mystical painting by Zao Wou-Ki, 18.12.69sold for €1.5 million (estimate: €1.3m to €1.8m) and that of Lucio Fontana Concetto spaziale, Attesaa lacerated red canvas from 1964-65 sold for €1.2m against an estimate of €1.1m to €1.8m.

Woman in a Tub (2000) by Sarah Lucas, which failed to sell.  Courtesy of Sotheby's.

by Sarah Lucas Woman in a bathtub (2000), which failed to sell. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Among the lots that did not find buyers were those of Christo Brite Green store front, project (1965), Takashi Murakami A chimney (2000), and the sculpture by Sarah Lucas Woman in a bathtub (2000).

“It’s a problem of estimation,” Mallecot said of Lucas’ piece – a coat hanger with two fried eggs and a pair of tights hanging over an old bathtub estimated between 150,000 and 200,000 €. He declined to comment on the other two.

Asked how he thought the Paris market compares to London right now, Mallecot was measured. “We’ll see in two weeks how the sales go in London,” he said, “but I don’t think there’s a drop in the London market.”

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:


Want to stay one step ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to receive breaking news, revealing interviews and incisive reviews that move the conversation forward.