Issue 3, Spring/Summer 2011

Looking back at the art market a generation ago, one might be forgiven for questioning what has changed. In the early 1970s top level art was fetching record breaking high prices against the backdrop of a deep economic recession and high oil prices. The London auction rooms recorded record turnover, figures brought about by an influx of money from wealthy clients worried about the prospect of high inflation. A case of history repeating itself?

Gauging the state of the international art market today, however, has probably never been more difficult. Which market? And where? What is true in one sector or area will not necessarily be true everywhere. It is no longer really possible to speak of one market behaving in a consistent way. Nevertheless, the past six months have reinforced one overriding perception: whatever the continuing financial fficulties in the USA, Britain and the Eurozone, it is class and quality that count. Objects with impeccable provenance, especially if they are new to the market, will find buyers. Well constructed and well presented sales will attract interest and produce success.

The 2008 financial crisis, of course, did not affect the world equally. The Chinese economic miracle continues apace, although it is not yet possible to make a definitive judgement about the medium to long term significance of the explosion of interest in Asian Art in China.

Will the Chinese super rich develop a taste for Western contemporary art and what will this do to prices? One thing is certain: collecting at the top end of market is now truly global and a strong international presence and the technology to support it is essential. Sellers want access to the markets which gives them the best chance of realising high prices. Buyers want to find the best objects and to be able to bid on them wherever and whenever the auctions are taking place. Bonhams across-the-board introduction of on-line bidding, in addition to the existing phone and on-line advance bidding facilities, have undoubtedly increased participation in sales to the benefit of sellers and buyers alike.

  1. Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) Tête de matador

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    The market for Western art remains largely concentrated in Europe and the Americas though there are signs that Asian buyers are beginning to show an interest in this area, especially in the contemporary sector. It is too early to estimate how this might develop or what effect it might have though there may be useful parallels in the Japanese 'buyer ...

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    Single owner collections

    Bonhams has a long history of handling single owner collections successfully and in the past six months, two sales have stood out. The sale of Papers and Portraits: the Roy Davids Collection Part II was the talking point of collectors and institutions across the world. Among many outstanding results, was the world record price achieved for the last privately owned ...

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    Asian Art

    Asian art continues to appeal to collectors wherever it is offered. It is one area of the global market where demand for high quality objects outstrips supply to the extent that buyers will sometimes back their own instincts over those of the professionals. This has resulted in spectacular prices.

    A rare pair of famille rose teapots, for example,which had ...

  4. A Roman marble relief panel

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    Diamonds, clocks & watches

    High class diamonds and watches are in constant demand and sold particularly well in Hong Kong in May in a part of the world where top quality is highly prized. In a sale total for Fine Jewellery and Jadeite of HK$50m a sapphire and diamond ring at HK$6m stood out together with a Bulgari single stone diamond ring ...

  5. An important gem-set gold Navratna Pendant from the Treasury of Tipu Sultan, The Tiger of Mysore (1750-99), Mysore (Seringapatam), late 18th Century

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    Forthcoming highlights

    Few people would be bold enough to claim that the international art market has been entirely unaffected by the economic situation in the Western hemisphere but the consistently good performance of high quality items does suggest a degree of immunity.

    Bonhams' own experience shows that well judged sales pitched at the right level will continue to stimulate collectors' interest and ...

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