Bonhams in London continues its buying spree in the auction rooms with the acquisition of the first French auction house, Cornette de Saint Cyr, which will be called Bonhams Cornette de Saint Cyr. The acquisition is another sign of consolidation in the sector, following Bonhams’ acquisition of leading Nordic auction house Bukowskis; Skinner in New England, USA, and Denmark’s leading auction house, Bruun Rasmussen. Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.
The latest acquisition means Bonhams now runs 14 salesrooms around the world, adding the Paris and Brussels spaces of Cornette de Saint Cyr to its property portfolio, “giving us more salesrooms than anyone else”, says Bruno Vinciguerra, the chief executive of Bonhams, which had a turnover of $800 million in 2021 with a total workforce of 850 people worldwide (it has been owned by private equity firm Epiris since 2018).
Bonhams can provide a global platform for auction houses now under its umbrella, adds Vinciguerra. “In terms of shipments, customers from Sweden or France, for example, can now come to us because we have a global reach. There is the local relationship [with the associated auction houses] and the global platform [at Bonhams].”
Vinciguerra says there is a “compatibility” between Bonhams and the Cornette de Saint Cyr family, who founded the Paris-based auction house in 1973. “We both have this vision, based on the heritage , tradition, respect and relationships, but also an appetite to take the next step. Our categories are compatible in terms of price,” he says.
“Unlike some of our competitors, we don’t just focus on one category. I would say the most striking point is the diversity of genres,” adds Vinciguerra.
Cornette de Saint Cyr has 15 departments including Asian works of art, cars and photographs. Among the shipments that made headlines was the sale of paintings by French actor Alain Delon in 2007. His highest lot in 2021 was that of Wu Guanzhong. Hong Kong night (1987), sold last April for €5.7 million including fees.
The branding of all auction houses under the Bonhams umbrella will remain the same, Vinciguerra said, adding that the various auction house websites will not be changed. “We want to create fluidity – and people are used to going to the Bukowskis website, for example. We are going to integrate to make a bigger network of websites, but, for now, we want to keep the [separate] live websites.
It also targets the low end of the market. “The smallest sales of $1 million were [previously] not global. They were local events, now they are global. Global integration spurred by technology and the pandemic has made this [sector] ready for consolidation. The key is to build a platform that can become a driving force in this falling market. »
Vinciguerra points out that even in the wake of Brexit, the UK market ‘continues to grow’, highlighting strong sales at Bonhams Modern & British & Irish art sale in London earlier this month, with records set for paintings by Christopher Wood (Drying sails, Mousehole, Cornwall£479,100, is £80,000-£120,000) and Barbara Hepworth (string figure£516,900, estimated between £120,000 and £180,000).
“If you look at any regional segment in the world, they’re very strong,” Vinciguerra says. But will the establishment in Paris not weaken the image of the United Kingdom? “A collector can buy paintings in Paris and London. And what we want are conversations. We want opportunities. And actually, if you are fortunate enough to buy several paintings, I want to tell you about this sale in Paris and also this sale in London,” he says. “They don’t substitute, I believe. The extension for growth and success [at the British sales] prove that. In terms of [clients] the mix between the major regions – Europe, the United States and Asia – remained the same. »
So are there plans to acquire other auction houses, perhaps in Asia? “We have at least 40, maybe 50, more auction houses that would make sense; they are all over the world and they share the same tradition of great respect for [their] local marketplaces, price compatibility and willingness to scale [in terms of a] local relationship and global platform. That said, when people sometimes ask me ‘where are we going to go next?’, I don’t know.
Some industry insiders have also speculated that this offer to expand Bonhams’ global network is an incentive to bolster the business ahead of a resale. “It will happen one day, but that’s not what drives our strategy,” Vinciguerra says. “I am personally convinced that we will work there for 20 years, as a company; it’s a long term thing.