Christie’s Paris celebrates its 20th anniversary


Twenty years have passed since François Curiel set up the French headquarters of Christie’s in Paris. The British company’s arrival in France was made possible in 2001 by the French government finally cancelling the royal decree prohibiting foreign competition for auctions and opening its internal market to international companies. When they arrived, Christie’s decided to take up residence in Paris’s ‘Golden Triangle’ where they found a building once the headquarters of the famous fashion designers, the Callot Sisters, on avenue Matignon (between the Champs-Élysées and rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré).

Over the past 20 years, it has continued to expand on the French market.

Today Christie’s Parisian activity represent its third largest Western activity after those of London and New York. In 2020, Paris accounted for a quarter ($503 million) of the auction house’s annual global auction turnover ($2 billion). It is therefore a very important part of the firm’s global operations.

Over the past 20 years, Christie’s has hosted a number of exceptional sales in Paris, including the famous three-day sale of the Yves Saint Laurent / Pierre Bergé collection in 2009, which took more than 375 million euros. The couple’s Impressionist and Modern paintings and sculptures fetched €200 million on the first night, breaking the world record for a private art collection sold at auction. François Curiel remembers: “It was all the more surreal as just a few months earlier, Lehman Brothers had filed for bankruptcy and the financial world was in chaos”.

The following year a sublime limestone sculpture by Amedeo MODIGLIANI (Tête, 1910-12) fetched 43.2 million euros ($52.3 milion), simultaneously breaking two records: one for the artist and the other for an artwork sold publicly in France. In fact Modigliani’s Head – offered as part of the Gaston Lévy Collection (Lévy [1893-1977] was the founder of France’s supermarket chain Monoprix) – still holds the record for France’s best-ever art auction result.

Today, Christie’s is continuing its growth dynamic in France: “We must continue to grow and adapt” says François Curiel, aware of the challenges posed by Brexit, by new technologies and by an increasingly competitive commercial landscape.

A year ago it finished work on a substantial expansion of its premises on avenue Matignon that has increased its floor space with a 140 m2 street level gallery to present works in the window directly to the public. Meanwhile, further along the same avenue, Sotheby’s added an additional 1,000 square meters! So the competition is indeed fierce.

Christie’s most recent highly successful sale, on 3 December, took nearly 17 million euros for a selection of Post-War and Contemporary works including some of the most sought-after signatures of the moment. A work by the Canadian abstract artist Jean-Paul RIOPELLEgenerated the sale’s best result at $4.2 million. In price terms he was followed by Pierre Soulages, Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni and Zao Wou Ki, whose works are also in great demand.

The catalogue also included three works by Georges MATHIEU, no less than five by Jean FAUTRIER and a powerful painting by Hermann NITSCH (Serie II / 94/6) that sold for €100,000, ($113,000), twice its low estimate. Indeed, in 2021, the markets for these 3 Abstract artists has been exceptionally dynamic with record sales and demand from all over the world.

2021: record auction turnover totals for three Abstract artists

(provisional figures recorded by Artprice as of 7 December 2021)

  • Georges Matthieu: over $15 million
  • Jean Fautrier: $14.6 million
  • Hermann Nitsch: $2.5 million


The stakes in the French art auction market are high: it frequently throws up major Old Master (and ancient) works (with constant discoveries) as well as works by the best signatures of the Modern era. In terms of volume, there is a lot of valuable art in France with some 120,000 works presented at auction every year, and it still asserts itself as one of the densest markets in the world.