artnet: Bonhams has acquired a major Nordic auction house in a bid to accelerate its expansion in Europe

Bonhams has acquired Bukowskis, a leading auction house in Scandinavia, as it seeks to further strengthen the London-based auctioneer’s presence in continental Europe.

The acquisition, negotiated for an undisclosed sum, is part of Bonhams’ ambitious expansion in Europe seen over the past 10 months. In April last year, Bonhams acquired The Market, an online auction platform operating in the UK, Europe and the US specializing in classic and collectible cars and motorbikes. It also opened its first saleroom in Paris in September.

The latest addition to the Bonhams portfolio was founded in 1870 by Henryk Bukowski in Stockholm, Sweden, where he operates his flagship product in addition to a saleroom in Helsinki, Finland. The house focuses on a range of collectibles from fine art and design to jewelry and watches, and has been in the hands of the Lundin family, one of Sweden’s wealthiest families, since 2007.

“Bonhams’ acquisition of such a famous auction house is an important part of our strategy to establish Bonhams as a digital leader and a truly global player with a balanced presence in the United States, Europe and Asia“Bonhams CEO Bruno Vinciguerra said in a statement.

Bukowskis has set a number of auction records in the region, selling 11 of the 15 most valuable works of art on the Swedish market, including last year’s sale of Anders Zorn’s 1891 painting. Sunday morning, which sold for almost SEK 30 million ($3.9 million) to become the most expensive piece of classical art for sale in Sweden. The auction house also performs well in the main market, referring to artworks priced between $5,000 and $1 million, as well as online sales.

The acquisition of Bukowskis reflects a relatively active market in the Nordic region: British art consultancy Gurr Johns has acquired the London-based company Forum Auctions in December, following a series of takeovers of smaller London auction houses including Dreweatts and Bloomsbury in 2017. Houses including Sotheby’s which reopened a site in Germany after a long hiatus, developed in Europe following Brexit.

Many of these auction houses, including Bukowskis, focus on the mid-level market and are not in direct competition with the two giants Sotheby’s and Christie’s. The core market may not be the source of record headline sales, but it is an important part of the market with “healthy” profit margins, according to industry insiders. About 90% of contemporary artworks sold in 2021 cost less than $20,000, according to a artprice report.

René Magritte, Shirtless in the clouds (circa 1937). Courtesy of Bonhams.

Bukowskis will retain its own brand after the acquisition and Louise Arén will stay on as managing director. Both auction houses will explore how to work together in the future. “Bukowskis has become an industry leader in digital transformation. Thanks to Bonhams’ global reach, we can further strengthen our position as the leading auction house in the Nordic region,” Arén said in a statement.

Bonhams was acquired by Epiris, a UK-based private equity firm, in September 2018. It has over 650 staff and eight salesrooms worldwide, including two in London, New York, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Sydney. Bonhams’ best batch last year was that of Pablo Picasso Woman with Purple Beretwhich sold for $10.8 million in New York in May, followed by the December New York sale of René Magritte Shirtless in the Cloudswhich hammered in at $9.98 million.

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