The National Art Library collects catalogues from the world’s major auction houses as well as others that cover the collections of the V&A Museum. Art auction houses mirror the developments and trends in the art collecting world, changing focus, subjects, locations and identity. Sotheby’s Belgravia was opened to meet the demand for Victorian paintings and furniture in the 1960’s. Philips, one of the oldest auction houses founded in 1796, has been through more changes than most. From numerous branches across the UK with different departments covering every type of collectible, to its acquisition by luxury-goods company Mercury Group in 2008 and sales of high end contemporary art, design, editions, watches and jewellery to core global markets.
The recent news of the impending closure of Christie’s South Kensington therefore came as little of a shock to many observers. Christie’s middle market saleroom selling more “affordable” art left it behind the market movements to China and the higher growth premium end of the market. More so, internet competitors have taken a large part of the sub £100,000 art auction market which the large auction houses have had to compete.
Another reason has been the growth of UK regional auction houses. Previously the major auction houses would make referrals to the smaller auction houses but today many sellers are happy to go to them directly confident they will receive the prices they seek. Any sale room closure will see business go elsewhere and the regional auction houses are well established to take on the sectors of the market the big players are less interested in.
In the National Art Library we have been collecting art auction catalogues from regional auction houses for several years. Recently we have strengthened our holdings and subscriptions to cover their growing importance in auctioning relevant art and collections to our collecting policy.
They include: Lyon & Turnbull (Edinburgh), Sworders (Essex), Woolley & Wallis (Salisbury) and Dreweatts (Berkshire). Some of these cover the arts in general but others specialise in particular areas, for example, Forum Auctions of London focus on books, editions and works on paper and Mealy’s of Castlecomer, Ireland, hold important country house sales. The auction of entire collections allow us to collect material that will in the future be searchable under that name and allow users to find extremely useful and unique information about an artist that uniquely art auction catalogues can provide.