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Sotheby's sales drop 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 (ANGELA WEISS)
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 (ANGELA WEISS)

Storied auction house Sotheby's reported on Monday that sales had dipped last year to $7.9 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 percent from the previous year, but up 40 percent 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 in a statement.

"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.

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.

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.

arb-gw/des