In 2009, Christie's states, sales fell to 2.1 billion pounds, a decline of 24%. For the contemporary category, which was hit worst by the art market slump, sales dropped 59% to 244.3 million pounds -- in 2007, it only took a handful of pieces to get up to this amount.
According to Edward Dolman, chief executive of Christie's, "These figures were much better than we expected." He observed to Bloomberg News, "The art market is vulnerable and we thought we'd be down 50 percent, as we were in the last recession in 1991." Christie's, along with the other major house, Sotheby's, were able to compensate for weakness in contemporary art with sales of Old Masters, wine and jewelry. Also, performance in Asia contributed to the salvaging of 2009, where average selling rates by lot gained 5% to 80% in 2009.
The Old Masters group gained 1% last year, one of only four categories to show an up-tick in 2009. The best performer, however, was the 20th Century Decorative Arts category, which posted a 149% increase, helped along by the 21.9 million euros paid for an Eileen Gray chair at the record-setting Yves Saint Laurent sale.