Bonhams has acquired French auction house Cornette de Saint Cyr for an undisclosed sum, the London-based auctioneer announced on Tuesday, making it the fourth competitor it has taken over in just six months. The buying spree is part of the company’s ambitious plans to create a global network of regional auction houses to consolidate its control of the art market for works priced around $1 million. dollars or less.
While multimillion-dollar sales of prime works often grab the headlines, sales of lower-end art and collectibles have shown the most growth potential since 2019, especially at young buyers, said Bruno Vinciguerra, CEO of Bonhams. “There is tremendous opportunity to consolidate the market below $1 million. It remains an extremely fragmented market, and we believe we are 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’ expansion plan, he added, and the auctioneer will continue to seek other buying opportunities, including in Asia.
Founded in 1973 by Pierre Cornette de Saint Cyr, the Parisian auction house, which also has an auction room in Brussels, will be renamed Bonhams Cornette de Saint Cyr. Bonhams opened an auction room in Paris in 2021, so the addition of Cornette de Saint Cyr will be integrated into Bonhams’ existing operations in France. Arnaud Cornette de Saint Cyr will remain CEO of the newly merged Parisian auction house, and Catherine Yaiche, managing director of Bonhams France, will take on the role of managing director.
Bonhams, Haunch of Venison Yard in London. Image courtesy Bonhams.
The acquisition is the latest since the announcement in March of Bonhams’ takeover of the family-run Danish auctioneers. Bruun Rasmussen and the Boston-based auction house Skinner. Bonhams started 2022 with acquisitions from the Swedish auction house Bukowski.
Bonhams now has 14 auction rooms around the world that can hold live auctions throughout the year, Vinciguerra said, offering nearly 60 categories, including luxury items and NFTs.
The global auction market changed dramatically from 2019 to 2021 due to the art world’s rapid adoption of streaming technology and digitization, accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, Vinciguerra said. In 2018, digital sales accounted for just over 10% of Bonhams’ total sales, but by mid-2022, 50% of the auction house’s total sales were conducted digitally. The total number of customers bidding online has tripled since 2019, and 49% of collectors the company served in 2021 were new Bonhams customers, Vinciguerra added.
What is more astonishing, he said, is the 71% increase in intercontinental sales, meaning people are bidding on sales made outside of the continent in which they live. “The $1 million or less market used to be a local market. And now it’s going global,” Vinciguerra said. “The habits of collectors have changed.”
Bonhams will keep an eye out for further takeover opportunities, and the biggest area for future growth it sees is Asia as a whole, from Japan to South Korea, Taiwan and Southeast Asia. “I probably won’t be able to sustain the intensity of the past six months to be honest with you,” Vinciguerra said. “But we will buy other houses, absolutely.”
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