Million-dollar art drives the auction market
Art in the $1m+ range represents a tiny fraction of works sold at auction, yet it makes up the bulk of the fine art market at Christie’s, Phillips and Sotheby’s. Between 2018–2022, $1m+ artworks accounted for 74% of total auction sales value, and 4% of lots sold. Approximately $31.35bn of the $42.13bn spent on art at auction in this period was for $1m+ works.
The $1m+ market shows resilience in times of uncertainty
Since 2020, we have seen a strong post-pandemic recovery in public auctions for $1m+ artworks. Despite a fall in public auction sales during the 2020 pandemic, private sales of $1m+ artworks peaked the same year and helped to offset the fall in public auctions sales.
The biggest growth is in the $20m+ price band
While most high-end sales were in the $1m to $5m price bracket, the biggest growth was for “trophy” pieces in the $20m+ range, such as Italian Old Master Sandro Botticelli’s Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Roundel, which sold for $92.2m in 2021. In 2022 these works accounted for 45.2% of all $1m+ sales.
Most private sales involve $1m+ art
Private sales of $1m+ art at Sotheby’s rose to $1.41bn in 2020, according to data supplied by the auction house. Although this figure decreased in 2022 ($1.05bn), $1m+ art sales are still 30.8% higher than they were in 2019 ($803.5m). Overall, top-tier works accounted for $5.3bn in sales between 2018 and 2022, or 85.9% of art sold privately and 15.8% of all fine art sold at Sotheby’s.
The rise of Asian bidders
Asian collectors have made their presence felt in recent years, making up nearly a third (32%) of those who placed bids for $1m+ art at Sotheby’s between 2018 and 2022, according to data provided by the auction house. Their buying is most prevalent in the $1m+ Chinese Traditional Paintings and Works of Art segment, but we have also seen an increase in the Contemporary market (accounting for 18% of bidders) and 17% of bidders in the Impressionist and Modern market between 2018–2022. Almost as many bidders came from Asia as North America, where the largest number are based (34%), and they outnumbered Europeans, who accounted for 29% of bidders.
More younger buyers are entering the $1m+ market
More younger buyers are entering the top- tier market. Although the “Baby Boomer” generation (born 1946–64) were still the largest group (40.6%) of bidders in the $1m+ market in 2022, the number of them is down from 48% in 2018. Meanwhile, Millennial bidders (born 1981–96), have increased from 7% in 2018 to 16% in 2022.
Impressionist and Modern art is the leading category
Impressionist and Modern art dominates the $1m+ market, accounting for more than half (53.3%) of sales by value in 2022. Several museum-worthy private collections helped propel sales in this category to $4.25bn in 2022, including $1.1bn achieved in two sales of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s collection.
Contemporary art accounts for the largest share of private sales
Contemporary art accounts for the majority (59.6%) of $1m+ works sold privately at Sotheby’s between 2018 and 2022, according to data provided by the auction house. Impressionist and Modern art is the second- largest segment, with 25.4% of lots.
Contemporary women artists are gaining ground
More art by Contemporary women is breaking the $1m barrier, with sales more than doubling from 2018 to 2022, growing from $221.7m to $461.9m. In 2022, nearly a quarter (24.5%) of $1m+ works were by Contemporary women artists, compared with just 11.8% in 2018.
The fastest-growing category of $1m+ art is by Young Contemporaries
The number of works by Young Contemporaries – artists born in 1977 or later, such as 45-year-old Romanian painter Adrian Ghenie – selling for more than $1m has soared by 366.7% since 2018. The total value of works by these artists has more than quadrupled, from $36.9m to $194m.
The Old Masters market is dominated by “trophy” works
Due to their limited supply, Old Masters make up the smallest segment of the $1m+ market, but sales have grown by 45.7% over the past five years, from $281m in 2018 to $390.4m in 2022. This was thanks to a growing number of $20m+ sales, which pushed the average price for an Old Master work to $5.7m in 2022.
Chinese art shows resilience despite a three-year Covid lockdown
Although significantly lower than pre- pandemic levels, sales and the number of $1m+ Chinese Traditional Paintings and Works of Art have remained stable since 2020 despite severe Covid restrictions and economic uncertainty in Hong Kong and China during this period.
The information in this report has been gathered and analysed by ArtTactic. It covers fine art that sold for $1m or more (hammer price plus buyer’s premium), and unsold works that had a low estimate of at least $1m, between 1 January 2018 and 31 December 2022, at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips. The prices of artworks have been converted to US dollars based on the exchange rate on the sale date, using xe.com.
For the purpose of this report, fine art includes: paintings, sculptures, works on paper, works made using textiles, films, video and new media, and – in the case of Chinese works of art – objects in media such as porcelain and jade.
Artist classifications by period
|We have used the following categories:|
|Old Masters:||artists born before 1820|
|Impressionist:||artists born from 1820–79|
|Modern:||artists born from 1880–1909|
|Post-War:||artists born from 1910–29|
|Core Contemporary:||artists born from 1930–76|
|Young Contemporary:||artists born since 1977|
|Traditional Chinese Painting and Chinese Works of Art:||including bronzes, ceramics and jade, classical calligraphy and ink painting|
Bidder data and private sales data
Bidder data and private sales data is based on internal information supplied by Sotheby’s only and does not include data from other auction houses.
|The report covers sales from the following auction house and locations:|
|Sotheby’s: London, New York, Paris, Hong Kong, Singapore, Las Vegas, Milan, Mumbai, Zurich|
|Christie’s: London, New York, Paris, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Milan|
|Phillips: London, New York, Hong Kong|
The report covers sales in the following categories and locations:
|Impressionist and Modern, Contemporary:||London, New York, Paris, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, Las Vegas|
|Old Master paintings and drawings:||London, New York, Paris|
|Prints:||London, New York|
|American art:||New York|
|19th-century European art:||London, New York, Paris|
|Photography:||London, New York, Paris|
|Italian art:||London, Milan|
|South East Asian art:||Hong Kong|
|Latin American art:||New York|
|Chinese Traditional Paintings and Works of Art:||London, New York, Paris, Hong Kong|
|South Asian art:||London, New York, Mumbai|
|Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) art:||London, Dubai|
|Modern and Contemporary African art:||London|