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Sotheby’s sales dip in 2023 after record year

Sotheby's was responsible for the sale of 2023's most expensive works including Pablo Picasso's "Femme a la montre", which brought in $139 million.

Storied auction house Sotheby’s reported on Monday that sales had dipped last year to $7.9 billion (about R147.3 billion), down $100 million from the record-breaking 2022 which was lifted by pent-up demand following the pandemic.

The $7.9 billion total for 2023, which includes everything from art auctions to classic car sales, is down 0.8 % from the previous year, but up 40% up on 2019, the last year before the pandemic hit.

“Against a more challenging market backdrop, Sotheby’s sustained its momentum through successful sales of fresh-to-market masterpieces and high value lots in its core auction and private sales businesses,” the auction house, owned by Franco-Israeli billionaire Patrick Drahi, said.

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“Activity remained high, supported by increasing levels of generational wealth transfer and healthy auction sell-through rates,” said Sotheby’s chief executive Charles Stewart.

After a barnstorming year in 2022, the art market experienced a slowdown in 2023, in part due to falling sales in China, inflation and rising interest rates, which compounded the effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and the Israel-Hamas war.

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Sotheby’s was responsible for the sale of 2023’s most expensive works – Pablo Picasso’s “Femme a la montre” which brought in $139 million, and Gustav Klimt’s “Lady with Fan” which sold for $108 million.

Rival auction house Christie’s, owned by French mogul Francois Pinault’s holding company Artemis, projected sales of $6.2 billion for the art and luxury sectors in 2023, down a quarter from the record $8.4 billion haul in 2022.

Christie’s also cited a difficult global economic situation and the contraction of the art market as reasons for the decline.

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The record-breaking 2022 was also marked by the historic sale of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s art collection, which netted a record $1.62 billion.

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