An Assyrian gypsum relief of a Winged Genius made for the palace of Ashurnasirpal II, circa 883-859 BC. Sold for $30,968,750 in New York. Doucai and famille rose ‘Anbaxian’ vase,

Christie’s continues to lead the global art market

Sales in 2018 total £5.3 billion ($7 billion) — the highest ever in the history of the auction house

In 2018 Christie’s sales totalled £5.3 billion, an increase of 3 per cent on 2017 ($7 billion, up 6 per cent) and were led by the historic Rockefeller sale, the most significant collection ever sold at auction.

Global auction sales rose 3 per cent to £4.7 billion ($6.3 billion, up 6 per cent) with sell through rates by lot increasing to 82 per cent. Private sales realised £491.2 million, up 4 per cent ($653.3 million, up 7 per cent), while 88 online-only sales totalled £65.1 million, up 16 per cent ($86.6 million, up 20 per cent).

Across the year, 32 per cent of all buyers were new to Christie’s with spend by this group increasing by 20 per cent across regions and price points. Online sales continued to contribute the highest percentage of new buyers (41 per cent of new buyers joined Christie’s via online sales, up from 37 per cent).

‘We remain confident of continued success in 2019, thanks to judicious planning and continued focus on curation, selection and pricing’ — Guillaume Cerutti

The top categories for attracting new buyers were Luxury sales (32 per cent) and Post-War and Contemporary Art sales (16 per cent). The demand for works over £10 million continued with 67 works sold at this level during the year, up from 65 in 2017.

‘It was a record-breaking year at Christie’s with several major collections and continued demand across all categories,’ commented Chief Executive Officer Guillaume Cerutti. ‘While signs of a more challenging macro-political and economic environment increased towards the end of last year, we remain confident of continued success in 2019, thanks to judicious planning and continued focus on curation, selection and pricing.’


Sales in the Americas increased to £2.7 billion, up 9 per cent ($3.6 billion, up 12 per cent). In 2018, American buyers accounted for 39 per cent of global spend, with 40 per cent of new buyers to Christie’s coming from the United States.

A packed New York saleroom during an historic week of sales of The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller

A packed New York saleroom during an historic week of sales of The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller

The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller raised a record $835,111,344 for a dozen philanthropies, a new record for any private collection sale at auction. In addition, Christie’s Americas held record-breaking sales from an unprecedented number of collections, including selections from the Tisch, Stafford, Ebsworth, Anderson, de Menil, Newhouse, Bucksbaum, Klapper, Zucker, Thaw, Rose and Perenchio collections.

The Barney A. Ebsworth Collection was led by masterpieces by Edward Hopper ($91,875,000), Willem de Kooning ($68,937,500), Jackson Pollock ($55,437,500), and Jasper Johns ($21,125,000). The auction was the first of its importance to be recorded on a blockchain registry, and complemented the success of the American Art category at Christie’s in 2018.

In November, Christie’s sold David Hockney’s Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) for $90,312,500, more than doubling the previous auction record for a living artist.

A world record price for an Assyrian relief was set in October in New York when the gypsum relief of a Winged Genius made for the palace of Ashurnasirpal II, circa 883-859 BC, realised $30,968,750, the second highest price for any work of ancient art.


Sales in Asia totalled £613.1 million, up 5 per cent ($815.4 million, up 8 per cent) and Asian client spend accounted for 25 per cent of total global sales. Of the total Asian client base spend, 57 per cent was outside the Asian Art sales category.

The Spring sale highlights in Hong Kong included Zao Wou-Ki’s 14.12.59, which sold for more than double its estimate (HK$176,725,000), and an extremely rare doucai and famille rose ‘Anbaxian’ vase, tianqiuping, which achieved HK$130,600,000.

In November, Wood and Rock by Su Shi (1037-1101) became the most expensive object sold by Christie’s in Asia, when it sold for HK$463,600,000.

Europe, The Middle East, Russia and India

Sales in Europe and the Middle East totalled £1.4 billion, down 8 per cent ($1.9 billion, down 5 per cent), with clients from Europe and the Middle East accounting for 36 per cent of spend globally. Thirty-seven per cent of new buyers came from the region, with new buyers to King Street in London up 28 per cent.

The London February Impressionist and Modern Art Day Sale  achieved the highest total for a sale in this category, realising £20,636,938. The October Frieze Week sale series was led by Francis Bacon’s Figure in Movement  (£19,921,250); the Modern British Art Evening Sale  in November totalled £17,875,750, and was led by L. S. Lowry’s A Northern Race Meeting, realising £5,296,250, more than three times the estimate; and to close the year Sir Anthony van Dyck’s Portrait of Princess Mary realised £5,858,750, while a pair of portraits by Frans Hals sold for £10,021,250 from The Collection of Eric Albada Jelgersma.

Paris held 40 sales with 17 world auction records set during the year, and 27 per cent of clients registered were new to Christie’s Paris in 2018. In Amsterdam Christie’s continues to lead with strong results for Post-War and Contemporary Art. The November auction totalled €8,078,500 and included the curated selection ‘Cobra 70 Years’, dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the European avant-garde group, selling 99 per cent by lot.

Christie’s celebrated its 50th anniversary in Switzerland in 2018. The November Luxury sales in Geneva attracted over 4,000 visitors, many of whom came to see The Winston Pink Legacy, which sold for CHF50,375,000, the top price achieved across all houses in Geneva. These results secured Christie’s Jewellery department’s 25th year as market leader.

Marking the 60th anniversary of Christie’s in Italy, the annual Milan auction in April was 91 per cent sold by lot with Achrome by Piero Manzoni  selling for €2,970,000, becoming the most expensive work of post-war art ever sold at auction in Italy.

During the annual Dubai auctions in March a new auction record for a watch sold in the Middle East was set by a Patek Philippe reference 1518 made for King Farouk of Egypt, achieving AED3,350,700. The London sale of Middle Eastern Modern and Contemporary Art in October attracted registrants from 18 countries, demonstrating the continued international appeal of art from the region.

Online sales

Total sales of art online reached £188.3 million ($250.4 million) in 2018, compared with £165.6 million ($214.5 million) the previous year. Online-only sales continue to be the number one recruiter for new buyers to Christie’s (41 per cent). The value of lots in online sales averaged $8,357 (up from $7,305 in 2017).

A third of the volume of lots from the Rockefeller Collection were sold online, while more unusual objects sold online across the year included a Matchless Canyon Diablo Meteorite, which achieved $237,500 in February, and a wheelchair that belonged to the late Stephen Hawking, which realised £296,750 to benefit his Foundation and the Motor Neurone Disease Association. Portrait of Edmond Belamycreated by GAN (Generative Adversarial Network), became the first artificial intelligence artwork offered in a major auction, and sold for $432,500.

Private sales

Private sales realised £491.2 million, up 4 per cent ($653.3 million, up 7 per cent). In Paris there was an impressive selection of objects sold to institutions and museums, including a 1776 commode by Jean-Henri Riesener acquired for Versailles.

In Asia, private selling exhibitions included 60 artworks, from Chinese furniture to contemporary ink paintings, being shown in Beijing; Hong Kong hosted The Michael Lau exhibition, and the third edition of Loaded Brush, which was held alongside a loan exhibition of works by Vincent van Gogh, the first solo exhibition of his work in Asia.

Other exhibitions held around the world included Making and Collecting Art in Germany  in Berlin in April, and Sacred Noise, a collaboration between the Old Master and Post-War teams in London.