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Elite auction house Christie’s opens new Brussels office in Avenue Louise
With Belgium boasting the highest number of art collectors per capita in the world, it’s little surprise that global auctioneer Christie’s has invested in a suitably elegant showcase for its fine art and luxury collectibles.
New townhouse premises in Brussels’ Avenue Louise offer two floors of exhibition space. Open to the public for pre-sale viewings, they will also host talks and events with the aim of becoming a cultural hub for the upmarket area.
“It’s a fantastic location with more space. We hope that there will be a lot more footfall,” says managing director for Europe, Middle East & Africa, Dr Bertold Mueller. He encourages everyone to take advantage of Christie’s carefully-curated exhibitions that precede sales, including in cities such as Brussels, Paris, New York and London.
The British auction house has maintained an office in Brussels since 1976, a reflection of the value of Belgium’s art market. “It’s always in the top ranks as one of the most important countries. It has one of the highest density of collectors per capita in the world, both in buying and selling.”
Belgium’s stellar reputation as an art hub is attributed to its abundance of private collectors who have a particular eye on cutting-edge art. This tradition and passion for acquiring art of all periods is also due to the fact that the country is less than 200 years old, resulting in fewer state-owned collections.
Meanwhile, Brussels’ wealth of art fairs, museums and institutions, as well its international character and strategical geographical location all boost its credentials as a key art market.
A younger generation of collectors are entering the market, Dr Mueller is keen to point out. “Year on year, over one third of new clients bid in our sales, of which over one third are millennials.”
Most of these younger buyers are dipping their toes into high-end auctions thanks to their appetite for luxury baubles. “It’s the watch, the jewellery, the handbag… You’re young, so that’s what you like,” adds Alexandra Kindermann, senior public relations director for Europe, Middle East & Africa. “But then it’s interesting to see how many of them then transact into other sales, such as art and design.”
Christie’s prides itself on its 80 sale categories, which range from old master paintings to exclusive jewellery collections and rarified or unusual objects such as rock legend Mark Knopfler’s personal series of guitars. They sold for €10.3 million, eight times their pre-sale estimate.
Nevertheless, 20th century works of art remain the most important category from a turnover point of view, says Dr Mueller.
Whatever the age or the item being bid on, a passion for collecting remains at the core. “If the work of art that you have bought increases in value all the better; if it doesn’t, you still own something that you wanted to have,” he adds.
Digitalisation of the art world
While Christie’s doesn’t operate salesrooms in Belgium, local clients are guided on the best auctions around the world to consign their artworks and objects.
“This will be decided case by case; specialists will advise the best sales channel, whether live, online or a private sale. Our international outreach is at the core of what we do,” says Dr Mueller.
Christie’s, founded in 1776 with headquarters in central London, is the first auction house to hold consecutively online sales when it staged landmark multiple live and online sales for Elizabeth Taylor’s massive art and jewellery collection in 2011.
A natural growth in online purchases ensued until the digitalisation of the art world skyrocketed during the Coronavirus pandemic. They now count for around 50% of the auction house’s sales.
Beside general auction advice, local offices provide a window to the global Christie’s world, including tailor-made valuations as well as special valuation days, open to all. “It’s a people’s world,” underlines Dr Mueller. “You need to understand the DNA of a country, its collectors and the whole infrastructure of the art world such as the fairs, galleries, museums and institutions.”
He’s quick to praise the Belgian team (pictured) led by director Astrid Centner (bottom left) for their expertise. “We hope that a lot of our existing and future clients will take this opening as an opportunity to reach out to the team and to look at the beautiful works on display here.”
Exquisite Magritte for sale
An upcoming highlight of Christie’s 20th and 21st Art Sales is The Art of The Surreal evening sale in London on 7 March.
For 2024, the annual event dedicated to surrealist and dada works coincides with the centenary of the founding of the art movement, which originally emerged in Paris in 1924 with Andre Breton’s Manifeste du Surrealisme.
The headline-grabbing work on sale in London is René Magritte’s L'ami intime (The Intimate Friend), a 1958 painting from the Belgian artist’s dreamlike series of an enigmatic bowler-hatted everyman figure (pictured).
With an estimated sale price of between €35m and €58m, it originates from the collection of the late US financial publisher Gilbert Kaplan and his wife Lena. The highly-acclaimed work was last publicly shown at Bozar in Brussels in 1998 and last went under the hammer in 1980.
“It’s one of the most powerful and impressive of only a few of these iconic images left in private hands, a tour de force of the artist's hyper-realistic technique,” explains Olivier Camu, deputy chairman for Impressionist and Modern art at Christie’s, London. “It’s extremely poetic, silent and mysterious, especially given the unknown identity of the sitter together with its evocative title.”
Of all the Surrealist artists, Magritte is the most sought after internationally, he says, adding that the Magritte constitutes one of the most significant to appear at auction since the 1998 sale of the collection of Harry Torczyner, a friend and advisor of the artist.
The painting goes on pre-sale display at Christie’s Los Angeles, New York and London before the auction in the UK capital.
Photos: (main image) Christie’s office interior ©Vincent Everarts de Velp; Avenue Louise location ©Vincent Everarts de Velp; Brussels team ©Alison Anselot; René Magritte, L'ami intime (The Intimate Friend), 1958 ©Christie's