The Best Year So Far

Czech Art Market in 2012

František Kupka’s painting Shape of Blue (Tvar modré), which sold for 57.42 million Czech crowns (close to 2.3 million euros) in April, became the most expensive work of Czech art ever sold at an auction, not only in the Czech Republic, but worldwide. At least another 40 artists achieved a new auction record last year and more paintings than ever were sold for above a million Czech crowns (40 thousand euros). However, sales of more average works are falling.

The April auction of Kupka’s painting was widely promoted in the media ahead of the event. It was expected that the painting offered by the Adolf Loos Apartment and Gallery would become the most expensive artwork from a Czech auction, but an increase of more than 10 million crowns, when compared to the starting bid, was still a big surprise. However, the whole sale may still fall apart, as the Ministry of Culture decided at the end of the year that the painting will remain part of the cultural heritage, and that it would not be possible to permanently export it. “The buyer has already agreed with the director of Vienna’s Belvedere that he will lend them the painting for a permanent exhibition. Instead of being pleased that they’re interested in Kupka abroad, we’re opposing it,” says the gallery owner, Vladimír Lekeš, shaking his head.

Adolf Loos Apartment and Gallery
Adolf Loos Apartment and Gallery 18. 4. 2012


Vojtěch Hynais, Václav Radimský, Josef Lada, and Mikuláš Medek also achieved new record prices. Probably the most positive news from last year is the high number of artist records in the medium price range, from a hundred thousand to one million crowns (4 to 40 thousand euros). More than 30 records were broken, half of them from the post-war art segment. The less-known 19th century landscape painters, so called Mařákovci, and somewhat overlooked artists from classical modernism also did well. “I am pleased with the prices reached last year by Justitz and Kars. Nobody knew them during socialism, and now they’re finally returning to the level they deserve,” says gallerist Martin Kodl. The representatives of other auction houses agree. “I’m happy that people are buying things only art historians were interested in a few years ago. For example, Tribute to Kandinsky by Václav Bartovský,” says Albert Trnka from the Meissner-Neumann auction house. “This shows that the market is improving. Not everyone has got millions, but even at our social level there are people who want to collect art, and behave similarly to people purchasing more expensive works. They go for quality and don’t hesitate to pay out for a good piece,” explains the director, Dorothea Mária Gálová.

Record Percentage

In total last year, collectors and investors spent over 800 million crowns (32 million euros) at auctions (unless stated otherwise, all prices are including the auction commission), which is a new historical record. Last year’s turnover surpassed the record results from 2009 by 17 per cent. Year on year, the total market volume increased by 36 percent and ART+ Index, which takes into account turnover in addition to other factors, which shows an increase by as much as 58 percent when compared to December 2011. To buy the 10 most expensive works from last year, any potential buyer would have needed more than 200 million Czech crowns (8 million euros). A year earlier less than half of that amount would have been enough.

Compared to the previous two years, last year’s results were less volatile. Although there was no lack of surprising increases (less often, however) quality pieces remained unsold. This was mostly due to an excessively high starting bid. One hundred and thirty-eight paintings and sculptures were sold last year for more than a million crowns, which is about a quarter more than the year before. Leaving aside foreign artists, among the million-crown items we find only four newcomers: Bedřich Havránek, Hanuš Schwaiger, Jiří Kars and Josef Jíra. The works of other represented artists had already been auctioned at over one million crowns in the past.

1. Art Consulting
1. Art Consulting 18. 3. 2012


Over 60 auctions took place last year in which around 25,000 items were offered. Over 10,000 of the items found a new owner, which corresponds to a 41 per cent success. While the number of offered items increased annually by about a thousand, the number of sold items fell by a few hundred. The success rate has decreased in recent years and in 2011 it was less than 43 percent. A year earlier it was 46 percent. Also, the number of items purchased for more than a hundred thousand crowns decreased from 664 to 629. So far, most of the paintings, sculptures and antiques worth over a hundred thousand crowns were sold in 2010. Compared to last year that was about 11 percent more. It seems that a hundred thousand crowns is still an important symbolic benchmark and that there are limits to expanding the circle of artists whose works are sold for above that amount. Rather, it is the recognition and acknowledgment of the quality of a particular painting or sculpture, more than a general rise in prices. Hundreds of thousands of records in the number of artists has only had a minimal effect on the prices of their other works.

We write about the widening price gap between high-end pieces and average goods sold here every year, so it’s not a new phenomenon. A significant increase in the proportion of items sold for millions in the total turnover however, confirms the further intensification of this long-term trend. Items sold for a million crowns represented less than 1.4 percent of works auctioned last year. However, their share in the total turnover was over 61 percent. The year before, it was “only” about 47 percent of the annual turnover. Barring items worth millions, it means that the average price of almost 99 percent of all sold works is nearly 34,000 crowns (1,360 euros), which correlates with the results from previous years (in 2011 the average price was 33,000, and a year earlier 34,500 crowns). The entire record growth last year was therefore driven mainly by price increases of items worth millions.

The most successful

In the last two years there has been a redistribution among the auction houses. By 2010, about 80 percent of sales were being divided between the five largest auction houses, exchanging places at the top spot based on revenue. Last year, they had already accounted for just 57 percent of the market and only three of them were in the top five: The Kodl Gallery, 1. Art Consulting, and Dorotheum. New among the top five galleries are Arcimboldo and a newcomer to the market, Adolf Loos Apartment and Gallery. One auction was enough to get Adolf Loos Apartment and Gallery into the fifth spot, mainly due to Kupka’s Shape of Blue, which earned nearly 81.7 million crowns (3.27 million euros). But now considerable works are appearing in the offers from more auction houses. Twelve companies have items represented in the list of works worth millions. 

Galerie Kodl a Vltavín 2. 12. 2012
Galerie Kodl a Vltavín 2. 12. 2012


Most auction houses recorded an increase in sales last year, and in some cases more than double the results for 2011. Though sales growth is often accompanied by a decline in the number of sold works, what is confirmed by the data is an increase in the most expensive items in the total turnover. In terms of sales success, Gallery Kodl, 1. Art Consulting and Adolf Loos Apartment and Gallery performed the best last year with a success rate of over 70 percent. The most successful in sales was Kodl and Vltavín’s December auction, where collectors spent a record 97 million crowns (3.9 million euros) in a single afternoon. “For me the high percentage of sales is especially important, and we have a chance to get some excellent paintings. Large collections were mainly owned by relatively poor families. Not as many as in the nineties, but many still are. As a result we have something to trade with, and we can also touch these things; something that our children will probably rarely have the chance to do,” Martin Kodl comments on these numbers.

A new phenomenon from last year was the major share of Chinese art in the total sales. Two works entered the top 10 immediately and a total of 22 were sold for over a million crowns. The auction’s success mainly consisted of the sales of Buddhist altar statues from the 15th century, which was sold at Zezula’s November auction in Brno for more than 19 million crowns (765 thousand euros). The Arcimboldo gallery triumphed with the works of modern Chinese painters. The most expensive of Qi Baishi’s scrolls was sold for 9.3 million crowns (372 thousand euros). Altogether, collectors of the Asian segment spent over 120 million crowns (4.8 million euros). “I am afraid, however, that there will be two more auctions, and then it will end. Apart from those works imported here in the 50s, of which not many are left, there is very little Chinese art here,” predicts Oldřich Hejtmánek, owner of Arcimboldo. “I’d like it if we could get Czech collectors to learn to collect art of Asia too. For example, Japanese art is relatively cheap today even though they are beautiful pieces of art,” he adds.

Changes and Trends

Post-war art was successful last year. Only the works of Válav Boštík, Mikuláš Medek, Zdeněk Sýkora and Karel Malich continued to be sold for over a millon crowns, but demand for works from the 50s to the 70s is clearly growing. 1. Art Consulting resolved in June to specialise in auctions which just focus on late 20th century art. Thirty-three of the offered 49 paintings and sculptures found a new owner, totalling 48.5 million crowns (1.9 million euros). “I would like to hold an auction focused like this at least once a year, but it all depends on whether we can assemble a quality collection,” Jiří Rybář says, owner of 1st Art Consulting. “We cannot expect any major changes in the Czech market, but after all, post-war art already sells better than it did a few years ago. Maybe it’s a generational matter as well. New buyers are showing up and they are focusing more on post-war art,” he explains.


26. 5. 2012


Somehow the behaviour of buyers is changing too. Similar to abroad, privately made deals are increasingly important for auction houses. “There are people who fundamentally don’t want to buy at auctions. We know what they’re interested in, and we contact them after the auction. It’s not a great number of works, but it’s already quite significant in terms of the percentage in turnover,” Mária Gálová from Dorothea says. “We are even open to brokering sales directly between collectors, yet it is a more common model for those works that remained unsold at auction. I don’t remember anything like that five to seven years ago,” she adds. Also, Jiří Rybář talks about a similar experience: “I don’t know if the point is that it’s more discreet, or some people like the feeling of exclusivity, but private sales are certainly growing.” Vladimír Lekeš of Adolf Loos Apartment and Gallery emphasises right away that for his company last year was historically the most successful mainly due to private sales. “We have opened an office in London and privately sell things there that would not have a chance at the auctions here. But it’s more focused on our foreign clients and world art,” Lekeš explains.

In the HR sector, Jan Neumann’s departure as head of the auction house Meissner-Neumann was an important change last year. Albert Trnka, his representative at the time, replaced him in the company’s management. Neumann is supposed to replace Simona Šustková as president of The Antique Dealers Association but he will continue to work as an expert and auctioneer for the auction house, which further bears his name. “We’re going to change the format of the catalogue, hold only four auctions a year and perhaps eventually move closer to the centre. But we won’t change the auctioneer for sure,” Albert Trnka says. Neumann is famous for managing auctions with over a thousand items just on his own and as auctioneer historically led the first ever modern-day auction in the fall of 1989. This year, it will be the 25th season of the Czech auction market.



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