China is the world's largest marketplace for fine art, new research has revealed.
A study carried out by Artprice.com shows the Asian nation accounted for more than one-third (35.5 per cent) of sales in the first half of 2016. A total of $2.3 billion (£1.7 billion) was spent on art in China in this period, representing an increase of 18 per cent.
Overall, some 252,000 fine art lots were sold globally in the first half of this year, accounting for a total turnover of $6.53 billion including fees.
Thierry Ehrmann, Artprice’s founder and chief executive, said China's position is a surprise, as the nation had largely been expected to fall behind the US this year due to the slowdown in its economic group. As a result, the increase in art sales in China is seen as a "major surprise".
"China’s problem with unsettled bids has now been resolved by an extremely strict legal framework that has been in force for two years. Hong Kong - an integral part of the People’s Republic of China - is at the heart of the process of stabilisation of the Chinese market and is proving to be of paramount importance for the nation’s art market," the Artprice report stated.
The US is the second-largest market, with a 26.8 per cent share and turnover of $1.7 billion. In third is the UK, with a 21.4 per cent market share and $1.3 billion turnover. Along with China, these are by far the largest players in the fine art market, with the fourth biggest country, France, having a share and turnover of just 4.6 per cent and $302 million respectively. Germany (1.6 per cent share), Italy (1.6 per cent), Switzerland (1.1 per cent), Austria (0.8 per cent), Japan (0.7 per cent) and South Korea (0.7 per cent) complete the top ten.
Artprice highlighted the rapid growth of online sales as one of the key driving forces in the art market, with 95 per cent of the players in the sector now connected. It also pointed to "the emergence of art as a reliable and interesting asset class" and the growth of the art-consuming population as important factors. The size of the latter has grown from around half a million in 1945 to roughly 70 million today. An increase in art consumption from younger generations and the expansion of the market to regions such as India, South Africa, the Middle East and South America have played a major part in this.
In terms of individual artists, Pablo Picasso's works were the most popular in the first half of 2016, accounting for turnover of $196 million. Zhang Daqian ($180 million), Wu Guanzhong ($102 million), Jean-Michel Basquiat ($101 million) and Amedeo Modigliani ($183 million) complete the top five. Claude Monet, Fu Baoshi, Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol and Qi Baishi make up the top ten.
The Artprice report concluded by stating: "The art market is an efficient, historical and global market whose ability to withstand economic and geopolitical crises is well established."