Old Masters and European Old Masters : Auction Results and Market Performance 2022

Old Masters and European Old Masters : Auction Results and Market Performance 2022
Jean-Siméon Chardin (1699-1779)Le panier de fraises des bois, Source - Artcurial 

The Old Masters sector, covering works sold by artists of all nationalities born between 1250 and 1820, and the European Old Masters sector, a subset focusing on Old Master artists of European origin, hold a unique place in the art market due to their historical significance and the enduring appeal of the artists. This report, based on the Art Basel and UBS Art Market Report 2023, provides a detailed analysis of the Old Masters and European Old Masters sector.

Market Performance

The Old Masters sector was the smallest of the fine art sectors in 2022, accounting for 7% of both the value and volume of sales, both relatively stable year-on-year. The share of European Old Masters was 4% by value (from 3% in 2021) and a stable 5% of the number of transactions.

Two decades ago, European Old Masters predominantly controlled the market. However, in the past ten years, the sales of Chinese Old Masters have made a significant mark on the industry. This rise in sales of Chinese works has led to a decrease in the market share for European artists. The high valuation of Chinese Masters, coupled with a quieter market in Europe and the US in 2019 and 2020, resulted in European Old Masters accounting for only 36% of sales in 2020. Yet, in 2021, record-breaking sales of pieces by Sandro Botticelli and other European Old Masters increased their market share to 57%.

The deterioration of Chinese sales and continuing strong prices for European Masters in 2022 meant further gains, with its share reaching 60% by value, the highest level in 10 years, with the exception of 2017 when the $450 million sale of Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi (c. 1499-1510) created an exceptional uplift.

Like all sectors, values in the Old Masters market are driven by the availability of works coming onto the auction market. However, in this sector, the very thin supply of high-quality masterpieces that are in commercial circulation each year has limited growth, despite there being very ample demand and buyers willing to pay high prices when they do appear.

While the market is slightly less affected by prevailing economic conditions, like other sectors, the restrictions and other factors related to the pandemic caused a decline in sales in 2020 by 16% to $970 million. The sector recovered well in 2021 with values increasing by 21% to $1.1 billion, driven by sales of a small number of highly priced works with a much more moderate increase in volume (with the number of lots sold up by 9%).

However, in 2022, while European Masters maintained growth, the cancellation of sales in China dragged down values in the wider sector and sales values fell by 17% year-on-year alongside a 10% drop in the number of transactions, bringing the market just above 2020 levels again at $963 million. Although above the bottom of the market in 2018, the sector has shrunk in size and value over 10 years, with values falling by 37% from 2013 and the number of lots sold also down by 27%.


Sales in the US Old Masters auction market increased by 58% year-on-year in 2022 to $374 million. After two years of double-digit growth, values reached their highest level since the peak in 2017 of $646 million, when the market increased by 162% in value, driven solely by the previously mentioned da Vinci lot (without which sales would have declined by 21%). Nine of the top 20 works in the sector were sold in New York, including five from the Paul Allen sale.


In the broader Old Masters sector, the UK maintained its third-place position, although its proportion of global sales by value fell by four percentage points to 15%. After a three-year downturn that saw sales drop to a low of $148.3 million in 2020, there was a rebound in 2021 with a 37% increase in sales to $203.4 million. However, this upward trend was not sustained into 2022, which saw the market dip to a 15-year low of $140.4 million.


France's market, which had shrunk by nearly half in size in 2020, hitting a 15-year low, experienced a strong recovery over the next two years. In 2022, the value of sales rose by just over 140% to reach $113.8 million, the highest since 2011 ($114.5 million). This surge in sales was significantly influenced by two top-ten lots: Jean-Siméon Chardin’s 'Le Panier de Fraises des Bois' (1761), which sold for $26.8 million at Artcurial in Paris, and Michaelangelo’s 'A Nude Young Man (after Masaccio) surrounded by Two Figures' (15th century), which fetched $24.3 million at Christie’s Paris.

Sales by Price Bracket

Most of the sales in the Old Masters and European Old Masters sector continue to be at lower price levels. However, record prices in 2022 meant that values were even more heavily concentrated in the highest segment of the market. Works sold for over $1 million accounted for 64% of the value of sales, with 39% from those over $10 million, up from 24% in 2021 and only 9% in 2019.

Sales by Auction Houses and Artists

Sotheby’s and Christie’s were the largest auction houses by value of sales, with a combined share of 47% in the wider Old Masters segment and 61% of the European Old Masters market. Together with Artcurial, Xiling Yinshe, China Guardian, and Bonhams, the top five auction houses accounted for close to 76% of sales values (and 94% by value for the top 20). Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Artcurial, Dorotheum, and Lempertz were the top five houses by value in European Old Masters, accounting for 89% of the value of sales and one third of the lots sold in 2022.

The highest-selling artist in the sector for the second year was Sandro Botticelli, whose two top lots generated sales of $93.9 million. Along with Emanuel Leutze, Joseph Mallord, Canaletto, and Jean-Siméon Chardin, the top five artists represented a 31% share of the market by value, and the top 20 accounted for 54%. Although this was up from 51% in 2021 and 46% in pre-pandemic 2019, it is significantly less concentrated than other fine art sectors.


The Old Masters and European Old Masters sector continues to play a significant role in the global art market, driven by the historical importance and enduring appeal of the artists and movements it encompasses. However, the performance of this sector is influenced by a variety of factors, including the availability of works, the presence of high-selling lots, and the overall economic climate. As we move further into 2023, this sector will continue to evolve, shaped by these factors and the changing tastes and preferences of collectors and investors.


Art Basel & UBS (2023), THE ART MARKET 2023 A report by Art Basel & UBS. https://theartmarket.artbasel.com/download/The-Art-Basel-and-UBS-Art-Market-Report-2023.pdf

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