Another Good Year for the Arts & Antiques Market

Thursday 21st March 2019 - Della Bentham


Another Good Year for the Arts & Antiques Market

The 2019 Art Market Report has been released and shows that the market has grown for the second consecutive year. We take a look at some of the findings here...

Last year we looked back at the successful growth in the industry, you can read that report here.  We are pleased to report that 2018 was another good year for the art and antiques market with 6% growth up to $67.4 billion. This is the second consecutive year of growth for the market which is fantastic news. Sales the previous year had a larger growth of 12%, but the upward trend in the market provides optimism for the industry. 


The auction sector, both public and private makes up 45% of the market, this is down 1% on last. The dealer sector accounts for the remaining 54% of the market, this consists of dealer, galleries and online retail sales.


The three largest markets are still the US, the UK and China which combined take up 85% of the global markets value in 2018. The UK was actually knocked from second position last year by China but has recovered in 2018  with a 21% share. The US accounts for 44% and China 19%. Sales in the US totalled $29.9 billion, which is the highest recorded level to date.


Despite the uncertainty of Brexit the UK managed to regain its second position with a strong year of sales, which rose by 8% to $14 billion. The market generally in the EU fell to a 10 year low of 32% and was held up by the UK and their 21%. This is EU's market share is expected to keep shrinking as a result of Brexit as the UK made up 66% of the EU market share. The author of the report Clare McAndrew says “it’s the most obvious effect of Brexit”, McAndrew finds British dealers that she interviewed last year felt that larger businesses, with multiple galleries and less intra-EU trade, would be relatively unaffected by Brexit, and perhaps even benefit, while smaller businesses, “particularly those with less capital to ride out any periods of volatility”, could feel the pressure.


Sales in China declined by 3% on the previous year and amounted to a still very respectable $12.9 billion.

Sales at public auction of fine and decorative art and antiques (excluding auction house private sales) reached $29.1 billion in 2018, this is an increase of 3% year-on-year, and an increase of nearly 30% on 2016!

Again, the 3 largest auction markets are again dominated by the 3 major players the US, China and the UK who have a combined share of 88%. This is a rise of 4% on the previous year. The US accounts for 40%, China 29% and the UK 19%.


Auction sales in the US increased by 18% to $11.8 billion and sales in the UK rose by 15% year-on-year to $5.3 billion. China who remain in second place in terms of auction sales actually saw a decline on the previous year’s results of 9% with $8.5 billion in sales.


The report finds that “Although less extreme than in 2017, growth in 2018 continued to be driven by the high-priced end of the auction market, particularly works priced over $10 million.” The auction sector is multi-tiered, with value highly concentrated in the top-tier businesses. The top five auction houses (Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Poly Auction, China Guardian, and Phillips) accounted for over half of the value of global sales. There are more than 500 mid- to large-sized second-tier auction houses that also generate a significant share of value, dominating the national markets where they operate and often engaging in international trade. A survey of these mid-tier auctioneers reveals that 91% of the respondents believe sales will increase or remain stable over the next five years. The majority were optimistic online sales would increase and 20% felt online sales would increase significantly over those five years. It's great to see such optimism and positive news. 

One of the biggest key takeaways from the report is that there seems to be some gender equality. It seems that despite increased visibility of female artists the value of their work lags far behind their male counterparts.  

The highest ranked female artist for an individual work in 2018 was the late American artist Joan Mitchell, in the 68th spot according to Sotheby’s, for her “Blueberry” (1969), which sold for $16.6m in May. And in October, Jenny Saville’s “Propped” (1992) fetched $12.4m, setting the record for the highest price achieved for a living female artist at auction. However, leading the field last year by some distance were Amedeo Modigliani ($157.2m), Pablo Picasso ($115m), Edward Hopper ($91.9m) and the costliest living artist, David Hockney ($90.3m).

It's fantastic to see that for the second consecutive year the market has continued to grow, the UK has managed to regain its number 2 spot and that despite Brexit sales are still strong. It is also encouraging that the auction market has continued to see growth and that mid-tier auctioneers are overwhelmingly optimistic about the next five years. We will, of course, be back next year when the 2020 Art Market Report is released. We hope to see another great year of results! You can read the full 2019 Art Market Report here.