Wealth Report – Face Off
A contrasting pair of record-breaking portraits helped art to drive wine off the top of the Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index in 2017
One is the serene face of Christ, the other a contorted slash of colour. One was painted in the 15th century by an Old Master, the other by a New York graffiti artist who died of a heroin overdose in 1988. Both made more than US$100 million at auction in 2017. If Untitled by Jean-Michel Basquiat, sold via Sotheby’s to the Japanese collector Yusaku Maezawa for US$110.5 million – setting a new record for an American artist – had been the most expensive painting to go under the hammer last year it would still have been an amazing story. However, it was the Christie’s sale of Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci that really focused the world’s attention on the art market. Some experts decried its condition, and others doubted whether it was even by Da Vinci, yet that didn’t stop a buyer from the Middle East deciding it was worth a staggering US$450 million, smashing the previous world record of US$179 million set by Picasso’s Women of Algiers in 2015. These two headline grabbers are clearly extreme examples, but the wider art market also performed very strongly. For some time now art has lagged behind asset classes such as classic cars and wine in the Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index (KFLII), but 2017 was the year of its comeback. According to data from Art Market Research (AMR) that we use to track its performance, the average value of art sold at auction rose by 21%.
APPETITE FOR ART
“Volatility in the art market has been driven by the prices of post-war and contemporary art in the last few years,” says AMR’s Sebastian Duthy. “After a depressed market in 2016 caused widespread concern, consignors were tempted back by auctioneers last year. The desire among wealthy art enthusiasts to add to their new museums carried on through 2017, while the appetites of great institutions such as the Louvre, which opened a new franchise in Abu Dhabi, put more pressure on supply. “As prices for the very best 19th- and 20th-century art continue to hit the headlines, there is hope within the industry that the sensational Da Vinci sale could attract a wider audience to Old Masters in 2018.” Wine, which was KFLII’s top-performing asset class in 2016, with growth of 24%, put in another double-digit performance last year to clinch second place. The value of the Knight Frank Fine Wine Icons Index, compiled for us by Wine Owners, rose by 11%. “Since the summer, the currency effect caused by sterling’s devaluation has dropped out of the picture, and this could in part account for the moderated growth in the index for 2017,” points out Wine Owners’ Nick Martin. Scarcity-driven markets remain particularly strong, he adds. “Burgundy markets rose 16.5% on the back of more or less insatiable global demand for the top wines, and a series of short harvests culminating in the 2016 release where some communes were down in volume by as much as 70% due to frost damage.” Much of the increase in demand is coming from Asia, says Andrew Gordon, managing director of Private Cellar, which provides a bespoke cellar management service for high-net-worth collectors. “Our Fine Wine List has seen unprecedented turnover in recent months, with particularly strong demand for stock with perfect provenance from discerning Asian customers. While partly due to the devaluation of sterling against other currencies, I do not believe it’s a simple currency issue – buyers in the Far East have extremely sophisticated taste and an ever-increasing depth of knowledge, which makes it an exciting time for buyers and sellers alike. Demand for top Burgundies is stronger than ever, driven by the scant quantities produced in recent vintages, but blue-chip wines from Bordeaux, Italy and California do not linger on our list for long.”
Even those asset classes that didn’t perform as strongly overall as art or wine in 2017 produced some record-breaking sales. Classic cars, which are still by some way the best-performing asset class in KFLII over a 10-year period, saw a number of striking auction results, with Bonhams dispatching a 1995 McLaren F1 for US$15.6 million, and a 1959 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder LWB made US$18 million through RM Sotheby’s. But it was a 1956 Aston Martin DBR1, raced by legendary driver Stirling Moss, that was the year’s top seller when it was auctioned by RM Sotheby’s for US$22.55 million. Although it has been suggested for some time that the classic car market might fall significantly, Dietrich Hatlapa of analyst HAGI, which provides our KFLII car data, isn’t too downbeat. “It’s hard to make predictions, but what I can be fairly confident about is that strong prices will be paid for the best cars by knowledgeable collectors this year.” The results from the year’s first major classic car auctions in Scottsdale, Arizona, seem to bear this out. Luxury investments don’t need four wheels to benefit from the glamour surrounding motor racing. The cherished Rolex Daytona worn by actor and keen racing driver Paul Newman was another record breaker. Given to him by his wife Joanne Woodward and inscribed “Drive carefully”, the watch, having been guided at US$1 million, was sold by Phillips for US$17.8 million. Chinese luxury investments and buyers were firmly among the record-breaking action in 2017. Hong Kong jeweller Chow Tai Fook paid a record price for a piece of jewellery, snapping up the Pink Star, a 59.6-carat vivid pink diamond, for HK$553 million (US$71 million), and a strikingly small and simple 1 000-year-old Ru guanyao ceramic brush-washing bowl doubled its pre-sale estimate by fetching HK$295 million (almost US$40 million). Sotheby’s handled both sales. Even furniture, which brings up the tail of KFLII, has the power to defy expectations. Bonhams sold an exceptionally rare set of four 16th- or 17th-century Chinese huanghuali folding chairs, estimated at about £200 000, to an Asian buyer for almost £5.3 million. Whether we will see records broken at the same rate in 2018 remains to be seen, but it will take some work of art to overtake.
Source: Knight Frank Wealth Report 2018 knightfrank.com/ wealthreport
TEXT Andrew Shirley PHOTOGRAPHS Sotheby’s, RM Sotheby’s, supplied