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Demand for Old Masters is on the Rise

December’s London sales are up 75.6% over last year.

El Greco painting Photo: Courtesy Christie's

The evening sales of Old Master paintings at Sotheby’s and Christie’s in London (held on December 6 and December 7, respectively) showed a marked uptick in the art market category—up 75.6 percent from December 2016 and 58.5 percent over 2015, according to Peter Gerdman, an art market analyst at London-based ArtTactic.

At Sotheby’s, 41 of the 50 lots on offer achieved a total of £25,048,950 ($33,552,100). The sale was led by Joseph Wright of Derby’s iconic oil on canvas, An Academy by Lamplight (1769), which brought an artist record £7,263,700 ($9.736,990), more than doubling its £3.5 million ($4.7 million) high estimate.

At Christie’s, 27 of the 36 offered lots sold for a total of £21,772,000 ($29,162,800). The star lot of the evening was Saint Francis and his Brother Leo in Meditation, an early 17th century canvas by Doménikos Theotokópoulos, better known as El Greco. The Mannerist work realized £6,871,250 ($9,203,780) on its £5 million to £7 million ($6.7­$9.4 million) estimate. Christie’s has clearly had a banner year in the Old Masters arena, having sold Leonardo Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi for record-shattering $450,312,500 in New York in November.

The December sales at the Sotheby’s and Christie’s brought in a combined total of £46,820,950 ($62,714,900) with buyer’s premium, easily exceeding presale expectations of £30,660,000 to £44,980,000 ($41,067,900–$60,249,000). By comparison, the December 2016 sales at the two houses garnered £14.8 million ($18.8 million) and £12.2 million ($15.4 million), respectively.

“2017 showed an unpredictable growth in the Old Master auction sector,” says Gerdman, adding that reported sales at auction totaled $797 million. This figure represents a year-on-year growth of 123.1%—growth largely attributed to the single sale of the Salvator Mundi. “That extraordinary sale has propelled the Old Master paintings market back into the limelight,” he says, “but the long-term effect on the wider sector, currently impacted by a diminishing supply of top-tier works, remains to be seen.”

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