We Know the Art Market Is in Recovery. But How Do the Numbers Stack Up to Pre-Pandemic Times?

The marquee evening auctions coming up in New York next week have been deemed the first major test of the art market coming out of the lockdown era. But data from the Midnight Publishing Group Price Database suggests that the art business is already in a better position than it was at the same juncture pre-lockdown in 2019.

Total global fine-art auction sales in March 2021 clock in at $1.1 billion—up by more than a fifth over March 2019, which saw $939.9 million in total auction sales. 

Both supply and demand also appear to be stronger in March 2021 than they were in the equivalent month in 2019. How can we tell—and why should we care? Read on for the rundown. 

All data © Midnight Publishing Group Analytics.


–Both the number of lots offered (one way to gauge supply) and the sell-through rate (which some see as a proxy for the size of collectors’ appetites) were up in March 2021 compared to March 2019. 

–Sell-through rate in March 2019: 65 percent

–Sell through rate in March 2021: 73 percent



–Hold up, you might be thinking. Is this comparison apples to apples? 

–Well, both months under examination saw heavyweight Impressionist & Modern and postwar and contemporary art evening sales in London, as well as major Chinese art sales in Hong Kong. So it’s as close to apples to apples as we can expect to get in the increasingly shifty unsettled landscape.



–Part of the shift may be due to an increased number of salesperhaps driven by pent-up energy from lockdown. March 2021 has hosted more fine-art auctions than the equivalent month in 2019—572 vs. 519. 

–But more than anything, the increase appears to be attributable largely to a growing number of pricey lots hitting the block. In March 2019, seven works sold for $10 million or more at auction; in March 2021, that figure more than doubled, to 15 works

–These trophy lots alone account for a quarter of the total $1.1 billion in fine-art sales at auction houses around the globe in March 2021.

–Zooming out, this growth at the top tracks with trends in overall wealth distribution: the world’s richest saw their fortunes grow by an estimated 20 percent last year, according to Forbes.  



–All this bodes quite well for the outcome of next week’s marquee evening sales. In 2019, the major drag on the market was a lack of high-priced works. In the first six months of 2019, total auction sales of works over $10 million dropped by 35 percent year over year, according to the fall 2019 Midnight Publishing Group Intelligence Report

–Now, that trend looks like it’s headed for a reversal. Not only is there enough supply of top-flight works for them to be sprinkled across the spring (rather than hoarded for the big sales in May), but there also appears to be strong enough demand to greet them, pushing prices up.



–Keep your eye on the top end of the market, folks. There may be some fireworks in store. 

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Art Industry News: See Which Rising-Star Artists Were Included in TIME’s 100 Next List + Other Stories

Art Industry News is a daily digest of the most consequential developments coming out of the art world and art market. Here’s what you need to know on this Friday, February 19.


Joseph Beuys’s Studio and Home Hit the Market – A German real estate company is selling the former home and studio of Joseph Beuys in Düsseldorf. While the company is leaning heavily into marketing the Beuys connection, the home is not a protected landmark because there are few traces left of the artist on site. (ARTnews)

An Embattled Brancusi Sculpture Can Be Removed from Paris Cemetery – A Brancusi sculpture of two lovers that has been nestled into a grave in Montparnasse Cemetery for nearly 100 years could be removed after the heirs of the graveholder won a court battle in December. Their battle to obtain the marble sculpture is not over yet, however, as the City of Paris is trying to obstruct its removal on the grounds that it is a cultural monument. New proceedings are now underway in which the family will have to argue whether the work was designed for the location. (Le Monde)

TIME’s 100 Next List Features Salman Toor and Amoako Boafo – TIME‘s list of emerging thought leaders and talents, called 100 Next, includes the New York-based painter Salman Toor, whose first show at the Whitney earned rave reviews, and Ghanaian auction star Amoako Boafo, for his role in creating a larger dialogue around “who really profits when Black art is handled by white gatekeepers.” (TIME)

Alabama Bill Could Ban Adding Context to Confederate Monuments – A proposed amendment to an Alabama bill could obstruct efforts to add contextual plaques to Confederate monuments and other controversial statues. The amendment to the Memorial Preservation Act would ban “competing signage, wording, symbols, objects, or other types or means of communication.” (Hyperallergic)


Second Half of Jeanne-Claude and Christo Sale Closes – The second half of Sotheby’s much-talked-about sale of the collection of Christo and Jeanne-Claude brought in $1.4 million yesterday. The remainder of the sale brings its total up to $11.2 million—more than double its estimate. More than half the buyers were new to Sotheby’s, according to the house. (ARTnews)

Gallery Weekend Berlin Announces Lineup – Some 49 galleries art taking part in Gallery Weekend Berlin, which will be held across the city from April 29 through May 2. Highlights include Borch Gallery’s planned presentation of Julie Mehretu and Capitain Petzel’s group show of work by Matt Mullican, Christopher Williams, Monika Sosnowska, and Samson Young. (Press release)


Columbus Museum of Art Receives $1 Million for Fellowship – The Roy Lichtenstein Foundation has awarded $1 million to the Columbus Museum of Art to endow a fellowship for emerging museum professionals. The rotating two-year program is designed for staff who are committed to “representing diversity, inclusion, equity, and access” in the museum field. (The Columbus Dispatch)

The UK Releases More Relief for Museums – The UK government has released the latest round of funds from its £1.57 billion ($1.9 billion) arts bailout. Among the new crop of beneficiaries is the Black Country Living Museum, which is getting £3.74 million ($5.2 million) to support regeneration projects scheduled before the pandemic. (BBC)


Art to Celebrate Black History Month – Rutgers African American studies professor Salamishah Tillet has selected some key pieces of African American art and culture to celebrate during Black History Month. Her picks include the High Museum’s David Driskell survey “Icons of Nature and History” and Ava DuVernay’s television series Queen Sugar. (NYT)

See the Natural History Museum’s Giant Model of Mars – London’s Natural History Museum has installed a giant model of Mars to mark the landing of NASA’s Perseverance rover on the red planet. The installation by artist Luke Jerram is hanging in the museum’s main atrium alongside its famous blue whale skeleton. (Press release)

The "Mars" installation by Luke Jerram at Natural History Museum on January 29, 2021 in London, England. Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images.

The “Mars” installation by Luke Jerram at Natural History Museum on January 29, 2021 in London, England. Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images.

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Art Workers Are Up to Six Times More Likely to Be Out of a Job. 10 Big-City Mayors Are Imploring Biden to Bail Them Out

Mayors from 10 US cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago, have co-written a letter to the Biden-Harris administration to urge an integrated federal approach to helping reboot the arts.

The mayors have come up with a plan that recalls the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration, and asks the government to employ cultural and arts workers in federal programs for infrastructure, education, job creation, housing, and health, reports Artforum.

“We have a singular opportunity to integrate arts, culture, and the creative economy into our national recovery and revitalization efforts,” wrote the mayors, arguing that new, targeted funding for arts agencies could help “serve our most pressing needs while also ensuring that overall arts and culture strategies are incorporated into initiatives within other parts of the administration and across federal departments.”

The letter cites the September unemployment rate, which showed that workers in arts sectors were out of work by three to six times the overall national unemployment rate (of 8.5 percent), according to the National Endowment of the Arts.

The mayors also turned to a white paper from the NEA to show that, when the arts are supported, they can play a vital role “in developing the conditions that are vital to civic healing and unity, social connection and belonging, collective trust and safety, life-long learning, and economic and social justice.”

The co-authors of letter are London Breed of San Francisco; Lori Lightfoot of Chicago; Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles; Jenny Durkan of Seattle; Kate Gallego of Phoenix; David Martin of Stamford, Connecticut; Sylvester Turner of Houston; Ted Wheeler of Portland, Oregon; Jim Kenney of Philadelphia; and Cassie Franklin of Everett, Washington.

“The social benefits of the creative process and products of artists, musicians, writers and performers has been amplified during [2020] as much as the economic benefits to related sectors like restaurants, hospitality and retail,” a representative for Houston’s Sylvester Turner told Midnight Publishing Group News in an email. “Investing in creatives has ripple effects for individual well-being, communities, and the economy.”

Arts industries account for a significant percent of the US economy, generating $877.8 billion, or 4.5 percent of the US GDP in 2017, according to 2020 from the NEA and the US Department of Commerce. This is more than the construction, travel, and agriculture sectors.

“Amid calls for a modern WPA Federal Art Project and a ‘Dr. Fauci for the arts,’ I hope the new administration will create a new permanent position in the Executive Office for a national arts leader,” said Deborah Cullinan, CEO of San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and co-chair of the San Francisco Art Alliance, in a statement supporting the letter.

“The real opportunity,” she added, “lies in the roles that artists and arts organization can play in supporting federal programs for infrastructure, education, job creation, and health.”

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Cézanne Painted This Mountain Dozens of Times. Here Are 3 Things You May Not Know About His Obsession With the View

Paul Cézanne’s muse was not a person but a mountain. Montagne Sainte-Victoire, a mountain overlooking Aix-en-Provence in southern France, fascinated the visionary artist for decades, resulting in over 30 oil paintings and watercolors made over the course of his life.

The mountain, whose name means “Mountain of Holy Victory,” was by no means astoundingly large: it measures a modest 3,317 feet. But it is steeped in local and personal lore. For Cézanne, who lived most of his life in Aix, and who established a studio with a view of the mountain in nearby Les Lauves in 1902, it was a nostalgic reminder of nature’s beauty and endurance. 

Paul Cézanne, Bathers at Rest (Baigneurs au repos) (circa 1876–1877). Collection of the Barnes Foundation.

Paul Cézanne, Bathers at Rest (Baigneurs au repos) (circa 1876–1877). Collection of the Barnes Foundation.

The landscape first began to appearance in his works in the 1870s: he included it first in a landscape of that year titled The Railway Cutting. Then it appeared again behind as a backdrop to his Bathers at Rest (1876–77), and by 1880s, the landmark would begin to feature as a central subject.  

Generally, Cézanne’s paintings of the mountain—or, more accurately, mountain range—are divided into two periods: his period of “synthesis” during the 1870s to 1895, and then his late period from roughly 1895 until his death in 1906. Despite the frequency with which Cézanne depicted the landscape, his pictures are full of unique details and surprising diversity—evidence, too, of the artist’s affection for the terrain.

A photograph of Mont Sainte-Victoire today.

A photograph of Mont Sainte-Victoire today.

Though the series is now synonymous with his oeuvre, each version holds its own nuances and surprises. In celebration of what would have been the artist’s 182nd birthday on January 19, we found three interesting facts that might make you see these paintings in a whole new way. 


The Mountain Exists Out of Time

Claude Monet, Grainstack in the Sunlight, Snow Effect (1891). Courtesy Museum Barberini.

Claude Monet, Grainstack in the Sunlight, Snow Effect (1891). Courtesy Museum Barberini.

Understandably, comparisons are often made between Cézanne’s depictions of Mont Sainte-Victoire and Claude Monet’s contemporaneous “Haystacks” or “Charing Cross Bridge” works. While there certainly are commonalities—both artists were interested in the effects of light and the varied possibilities one subject could produce—there was an important and central difference to their approaches. 

Paul Cézanne, Montagne Saint-Victoire (1904-1906). Collection of the Musée D'Orsay.

Paul Cézanne, Montagne Sainte-Victoire (1904–1906). Collection of the Musée D’Orsay.

Monet, who was one of the few artists Cézanne truly admired, was vested in capturing the experiences of a single day. He often worked from dusk to dawn to complete a painting. Cézanne, on the other hand, labored over his canvases of Mont Saint-Victoire often over a period of years, and sought to capture the mountain not specifically within a time or a season, but on an atemporal plane.

This was especially true of the artist’s late paintings, such as the version in the Musee D’Orsay. Here, Cézanne has moved away from his earlier Impressionistic style, with its emphasis on transience, and cultivated his Post-Impressionist innovation, instead placing emphasis on the relationships between color, form, and emotion as a kind of enduring structure. Mont Sainte-Victoire, with its sense of permanence, offered the artist the perfect subject for these new artistic interests. 


Japanese Woodprints Were an Inspiration 

Katsushika Hokusai, Fuji from the Katakura Tea Fields in Suruga from the series "Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji" (1830–1832). Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Katsushika Hokusai, Fuji from the Katakura Tea Fields in Suruga from the series “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji” (1830–1832). Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

One thing Cézanne’s many depictions of Mont Sainte-Victoire share is an aerial, birds-eye perspective. This strategy, many art historians believe, was directly inspired by Japanese Ukiyo-e prints, which were wildly popular in France at the time.

In 1913, the German art historian Fritz Berger first noted that Cézanne’s approach to perspective might seem to be inspired by 19th-century Japanese artist Utagawa Hiroshige’s series of wood prints “Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido” from the mid-1800s. Though many believed that Japonisme in Cézanne’s work was primarily filtered through the influence of Monet, the art historian Hidemichi Tanaka argues otherwise, noting that Camille Pissarro, Cézanne’s mentor, was familiar with Hiroshige prints and likely introduced them to Cézanne directly.

Paul Cézanne, Montagne Saint-Victoire (1904-1906). Collection of the Musée D'Orsay.

Paul Cézanne, Montagne Sainte-Victoire(1904-1906). Collection of the Musée D’Orsay.

What’s more, Cézanne was known to have studied contemporaneous art historian’s Joachim Gasquet’s books on both Japanese artists Kitagawa Utamaro and Katsushika Hokusai. Hokusai’s “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji” stand as an obvious parallel to Cézanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire series.

“It was not just the composition of Mont Sainte-Victoire paintings but also the very idea of a series of views of a specific mountain which seem to have been derived from Hokusai’s view of Fuji. Before Cézanne, no European had executed a long series of views of a single mountain,” Hidemichi Tanaka writes.

Yet Cézanne’s approach was not without innovation. In fact, whereas Ukiyo-e prints depended by their nature on the strength of outlines,  Cézanne adopted a “tache” approach, in which distinct lines are all but done away with.


The Mountain Became Emblematic of the Artist’s Own Legendary Status

Maurice Denis, La visite à Cézanne. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Maurice Denis, La visite à Cézanne. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The majority of Cézanne’s depictions of Mont Sainte-Victoire come from the last years of the artist’s life: 1902, when he established his studio in Aix, until his death in 1906. By those years, the artist, who had been rejected from salons earlier in his life, was already beginning to be heralded as one of the great artists of his generation. 

Simultaneously, however, Cézanne had begun to retreat from public view, living almost hermetically (save visits from other artists) in the mountains. And as the artist’s living legend grew, so too did his association with the mountain itself—and not without the artist’s own mythologizing.

Indeed, Cézanne emphasized a kind of cosmic connection to the mountain—the historian Joachim Gasquet recalled of a conversation in which Cézanne purportedly exclaimed: “Look at Ste.-Victoire. What élan, what an imperious thirst for the sun, and what melancholy, in the evening, when all this weightiness falls back to earth… These masses were made of fire. Fire is in them still.”

Cézanne, who had struggled through periods of great depression and doubt throughout his career, continued to paint, but shut off from the world, his depictions of Mont Sainte-Victoire became a kind public stand-in for the artist himself—inaccessible, distant, but nevertheless admired. 

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