Bonhams in London continues its auction house buying spree with the acquisition of leading French auction house Cornette de Saint Cyr, to be known as Bonhams Cornette de Saint Cyr. The acquisition is another sign of consolidation in the industry following Bonhams’ acquisition of leading Nordic auction house Bukowskis; Skinner in New England, USA and Denmark’s leading auction house Bruun Rasmussen. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The latest acquisition means Bonhams now operates 14 salesrooms worldwide and adds Cornette de Saint Cyr’s Paris and Brussels offices to its real estate portfolio, “giving us more auctionrooms than anyone else,” says Bruno Vinciguerra, Bonhams’ managing director a Revenue of $800 million in 2021 with a total of 850 employees worldwide (owned by private equity firm Epiris since 2018).
Bonhams can now offer auction houses a global platform under its roof, adds Vinciguerra. “In terms of shipments, Swedish or French customers, for example, can now come to us because we have the 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 auction house in 1973. “We both have this vision, based on heritage, tradition, respect and relationships, but also an appetite for the next step. Our categories are price compatible,” he says.
“Unlike some of our competitors, we don’t just focus on one category. I would say the most striking point is the variety of genres,” adds Vinciguerra.
Cornette de Saint Cyr has 15 departments including Asian artwork, automobiles and photography. Headlines include the sale of paintings by French actor Alain Delon in 2007. The top-selling lot in 2021 was that of Wu Guanzhong Night in Hong Kong (1987), which was sold last April for 5.7 million euros with fees.
Branding for all auction houses under the Bonhams umbrella will remain the same, says Vinciguerra, 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 will integrate to create a larger network of sites, but for now we want to keep it that way [separate] sites live.”
He also has his sights set on the lower end of the market. “The smaller $1 million sales were [previously] not global. They were local events, now they are global. Global integration driven by technology and the pandemic has led to this [sector] ready for consolidation. The key is building a platform that can become a driver of this lower market.”
Stressing that the UK market is “continuing to grow” post-Brexit, Vinciguerra points to good sales at Bonhams’ Modern and British and Irish Art Sale in London earlier this month, with records set for paintings by Christopher Wood (Drying Sails, Mousehole, Cornwall£479,100, estimated £80,000-£120,000) and Barbara Hepworth (string figure£516,900, estimate £120,000-£180.00).
“If you look at any regional segment around the world, they’re very strong,” says Vinciguerra. But won’t a foothold in Paris tarnish Britain’s image? “A collector can buy paintings in Paris and in London. And what we want is talks. We want opportunities. And if you are rich enough to buy several paintings, I want to talk to you about this sale in Paris and also this sale in London,” he says. “They don’t replace each other, I don’t think. The expansion for growth and success [at the British sales] prove this. With reference to [clients] The mix between the major regions – Europe, USA and Asia – has remained the same.”
So are there plans to acquire more auction houses, possibly in Asia? “We have at least 40, maybe 50 other auction houses that would make sense; They are all over the world and share the same tradition of great respect for [their] local marketplaces, compatibility in terms of price points and a desire to evolve [in terms of a] local relationship and global platform. When people sometimes ask me, ‘Where are we going next?’ I don’t know.”
Some industry insiders have also speculated if this offer to expand Bonhams’ global network is a push to strengthen the company ahead of a resale. “It will happen one day, but that’s not what drives our strategy,” says Vinciguerra. “Personally, I am convinced that we as a company will work on this for 20 years; it’s a long-term thing.”