Bonhams has bought French auction house Cornette de Saint Cyr for an undisclosed amount, the London-based auctioneer announced on Tuesday, making it the fourth competitor it has taken over within just six months. The buying spree is part of the company’s ambitious plans to build a global network of regional auction houses to cement its control of the art market for works priced around $1 million or below.
While multi-million-dollar sales of blue-chip works often make news headlines, sales of art and collectibles at the lower end showed the biggest growth potential since 2019, particularly among younger buyers, said Bonhams CEO Bruno Vinciguerra. “There is a formidable opportunity to consolidate the market below $1 million. It remains an extremely fragmented market, and we think we’re the best house with our strategy to drive this consolidation,” Vinciguerra told Artnet News.
The acquisition of Cornette de Saint Cyr is not the end of Bonhams’s expansion plan, he added, and the auctioneer will continue to look for other buying opportunities, including in Asia.
Founded in 1973 by Pierre Cornette de Saint Cyr, the Paris-based auction house, which also has a salesroom in Brussels, will be renamed Bonhams Cornette de Saint Cyr. Bonhams opened a salesroom in Paris in 2021, so the addition of Cornette de Saint Cyr will be integrated into Bonhams’s existing operations in France. Arnaud Cornette de Saint Cyr will remain as CEO of the newly merged Paris auction house, and Catherine Yaiche, managing director of Bonhams France, will take on the role of managing director.
The acquisition is the latest addition since the announcements in March that Bonhams bought the family-run Danish auctioneers Bruun Rasmussen and the Boston-based auction house Skinner. Bonhams started 2022 with the acquisitions of Swedish auction house Bukowskis.
Bonhams now boasts 14 salesrooms around the world that can conduct live auctions throughout the year, Vinciguerra said, offering nearly 60 categories including luxury items and NFTs.
The global auction market has shifted dramatically from 2019 to 2021 due to the art world’s quick adoption of streaming technology and digitalization, accelerated by lockdown, Vinciguerra said. In 2018, just when the London-based equity firm Epiris acquired the company, digital sales only accounted for a little more than 10 percent of Bonhams’s total sales, but by mid-2022, 50 percent of the auction house’s total sales were conducted digitally. The total number of clients has gone up three fold since 2019, and 49 percent of the collectors the company served in 2021 were new clients to Bonhams, Vinciguerra added.
What was more astonishing, he said, was the 71 percent surge in intercontinental sales, meaning people bidding in sales held outside of the continent in which they live. “The market at or below $1 million used to be a local market. And now it is becoming global,” Vinciguerra said. “The habits of collectors have changed.”
Bonhams will keep an eye on other takeover opportunities, and the biggest area for future growth he sees is in Asia as a whole, from Japan to South Korea, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia. “I probably won’t be able to maintain the intensity of these last six months to be honest with you,” Vinciguerra said. “But we will buy other houses, absolutely.”
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