Exclusive Interview With Thierry Ehrmann, the Founder and CEO of Artprice.com
Boursica.com: Could you remind us of how Artprice was created?
It was first of all an enormous amount of collective work involving
incredible art historians. In just 14 years, we bought up almost all the
editorial funds in
covers art publishing houses, art editorial funds worldwide and assets
You should know that through the Serveur Group that I founded and is
Artprice’s parent company (which specialises in judicial, juridical and
scientific databases), we have been on the Internet since 1985 and we were
therefore able to prepare and identify our key targets when we arrived on the
art market in the 90′s.
BOURSICA.COM: Who were these targets?
The targets were legendary firms such as the Enrique Mayer Guide
(1962/1987), the famous Dictionary of
databases in the
company Xylogic, the world specialist in Art Market price indices (1985), the
Bayer database on the Anglo-Saxon art market from 1700 to 1913, Caplan’s
Monograms and Signatures, a world reference work (
Livre de Collection et des Manuscrits (
and the list goes on… And we bought them all.
For the past 14 years, we have also had a systematic policy of purchasing
manuscripts and catalogues, mainly from 1700 to 1970 from the world over. We
had no choice but to buy this historic knowledge, otherwise we could not have
standardised the art market with certainty nor obtained perfect traceability
of works of art and correctly allocated them to the artist’s biography.
We have gone well beyond the millions of hours of work by historians,
research workers and journalists in the art market, who have documented and
written on all the works taken from these manuscripts and catalogues,
particularly from the 17th century to date. This is why we now have the
largest database of information on the market in the world, which allows us
to trace works of art over the centuries, with 108 million images or
engravings of works of art from 1700 to date, commented by our art historians.
It is not without reason that Artprice enriches its databases from almost
4,500 auction houses in real time and publishes trends on the Art Market
continuously for the main agencies and 6,300 press titles worldwide. Every
day, without paying a single cent, we are present in the world press with our
copyright and our Internet address. What more could you ask in terms of
reputation and communication?
BOURSICA.COM: Could you continue with how Artprice was created?
To get back to how it all started, we went back to the very beginnings of
the art market, which was practically born in around 1700; it was only from
that period that artists began to truly break free from commissions from the
Princes of the Church and the Realm to finally produce works of art in
response to demand. We can consider that It was at this time that the art
market was born, in the economic sense of the word.
For the past 14 yearsn we’ve had experts and dealers working for us
worldwide and as soon as they get their hands on manuscripts, they inform us
and we buy the manuscripts and catalogues. We’ve bought so many that we’ve
more or less achieved a shortage; at the outset we bought them at very high
prices and then gradually the pincer technique has come into play and the
latest are now bought every year at very reasonable prices. This fund is
unique in the world and we open it up, with prior authorisation on our part,
to researchers from the world over.
BOURSICA.COM: So what is your added value on this documentary fund?
Our work on the Artprice databases is really like mining work, every day
we have to go down into the mine, and we’ve being doing it for the past 15
years. In the years 2000 we reached a figure of over a hundred employees,
whereas now there are just 45 of us because all the work is now in the
databases. The number of employees has been divided by three and the number
of servers has been multiplied by nearly 30 over the past decade. To
standardise the art market we had to create the definitive inventory of works
of art and the biography of hundreds of thousands of artists from the 4th
century B.C. until today, sometimes with hundreds of homonyms to each of
which the right works have to be attributed.
BOURSICA.COM: How do you produce your reference prices since a painting
is by its very nature unique?
Take for instance, a work of art identified in 1850, it goes from auction
house to auction house over decades. We’re therefore certain that it is
indeed the same work of art and we know its price and yield year after year.
That’s why we are the only company in the world to have a perfect econometric
method for all works of art. In econometrics, its called the repeated sales
method, because we’re working on a homogeneous market. Others calculate
arithmetic averages, using the method of comparables, but this leads to
errors because their studies involve a heterogeneous market.
BOURSICA.COM: How have you been able to get around this problem in such
That’s why, in 2000, we bought the famous Swiss company Xylogic for a
small fortune, a company of scientists who had created all the algorithms and
price indices for the art market since 1985. We are the only ones to have, 10
years later, these gigantic databases (over 700 terabytes) in our own
computer rooms, with nearly 900 servers operating on our own fibre optics,
which we own. We do not depend on any IT services company, which explains why
our developments and R&D are so fast and our IT expenses so low.
What’s very important for Artprice is that we have succeeded in building
up the largest collection of annotated manuscripts and catalogues in the
world. This colossal documentary fund has been entered on our expense account
(income statement) using a precautionary principle, something that is very
good news for our shareholders who have a balance sheet that does not reveal
these assets which are, of course, significant.
We add new data to our databases every day from the world over. We have
bought up Anglo-Saxon, Chinese and Dutch databases, without which we could
not work, even if we put the best art historians on the development, they
could not get the same results. For example, for a Dutch painter called
databases, to be certain that we’re talking about the same artist and his
BOURSICA.COM: What do you reply to those who ask “why does everyone go on
Quite simply that we don’t have any real competitors because we’re the
only ones who manage over a million biographies including artists who are not
yet listed and 108 million images or engravings of works of art. Even someone
who doesn’t really like Artprice can but search our databases for any artist
who is not yet very well known, or is even totally unknown. The same goes for
a rare work of art that requires authentication.
People only see the tip of the iceberg of Artprice, but Artprice is above
all an enormous amount of work in the background, I even wonder myself how
we’ve had the strength to do it! Passion, I believe, is the only rational
explanation after all these decades…
BOURSICA.COM: Is the money raised on the stock market, along with funds
from the Serveur group and the Bernard Arnault group behind the success of
Yes, but only in part, because you should know that a cheque book is not
the only thing needed to acquire these documentary funds; we’re talking about
famous Historians and Authors, infamously ill-tempered, who in some cases had
received mind-boggling offers, but the financial aspect was only secondary to
these people. We had to persuade them of the importance of our project, as
was the case with
These databases represent the wealth of Artprice and, as a precautionary
measure, here again our balance sheets do not reflect the true value of our
assets, which are truly significant. That is also a source of wealth for our
shareholders for the years to come. IRFRS standards do not allow us to give
the true value of our company, whence the stock market price which, as if by
chance, is much closer to the truth; the Market is very seldom mistaken in
over 10 years of continuous listing, as has been the case for Artprice.
BOURSICA.COM: How do you manage reproduction rights for works on line?
Reproduction rights for the work is assured by the specific contract we
have signed with the ADAGP, the most representative company in the world,
which receives and distributes royalties in over 43 countries. This agreement
was a real precursor (2007) in the digital economy and is regularly used as
an example by the various different Ministries of Culture in
BOURSICA.COM: Would it be possible to create another “Artprice”?
No, absolutely not. Everything is protected under intellectual property
laws. Amongst other things I’m trained as a lawyer in literary and artistic
property and in the 90′s I was also the instigator of a lobby that aimed at
protecting databases in
European law equivalent to what is known in the
To put it simply, anyone, even someone willing to invest several hundreds
of millions of euros, would be prosecuted and forbidden from building up
databases or an Artprice Standardised Marketplace, and sentenced for
counterfeit and fined in proportion to the investments made, in addition to a
ban on using their databases.
Therefore a possible competitor would need to have not only a very large
amount of funds available, he would also have to be able to reinvent
ergonomics and a structure entirely different from Artprice’s. By analogy,
and simplifying the example to the extreme, you could say that we have
protected the fact that a car has round wheels; an adversary would have to
dream up a vehicle on tracks or on a rail, which as you can imagine is an
extremely big obstacle to overcome.
BOURSICA.COM: How are you sure you will do auctions?
Over 80% of Auction Houses worldwide draw up their catalogues based on
our data; in real time they use the artist’s biography, prices and indices,
and the work traceability, in order to estimate the starting price. Between
2001 and 2003, we spent 2 years calling and visiting 3,600 Auction Houses and
7,400 experts. This marketing and engineering study was extremely expensive
in terms of world travel and staff expenses. The Auction House world was
devoid of any databases; at best Auctioneers had available Word or Excel
files. Still today some of the world’s greatest Auction Houses do not have
any computerised databases.
BOURSICA.COM: How is it possible to be so behind, in terms of
computerisation and the Internet in 2011?
It’s just crazy. That being said, an old IT rule says that the greater
the power or knowledge of a profession or social body, the more it disdains
or ignores IT until the day it is forced to give in to the its customers’
demands. In this case, Artprice has arrived in the nick of time. Our
professional clients are highly captive and return to us over the years.
That’s another proof of our professionalism to our shareholders.
Using our intranet an auction house can produce its paper and Internet
catalogue very quickly, and at the same time promote on the standardised
Artprice market place its future sales with just a click of the mouse. It
can, for example, electronically promote a contemporary sale including 63
different artists to our 1.3 million clients, only those who follow and
research these 63 artists (or even certain specific periods of the artist
concerned). This is the “killer application” every Auction House has dreamed
of, whether large or small, even those who have spent fortunes in advertising
and marketing campaigns. For a prestige sale, advertising and marketing can
represent up to 70% or 80% of an Auction House’s expenses, whereas with
Artprice it will cost them only 4.5%.
BOURSICA.COM: Why have you chosen the Abode of Chaos as Artprice’s
headquarters, is that provocation or strategy?
It’s neither. The world of the Abode of Chaos is inseparable from the
history of Artprice and of the Serveur Group, a historic Internet pioneer
since 1985, the two of which have their headquarters in the heart of the
Abode of Chaos. La Demeure du Chaos / Abode of Chaos, dixit he
21st century, both tragic and sumptuous, the embers of which came into being
Today, with over 1,890 reports in the written and audiovisual press in 72
countries in just 12 years, it has become a “Factory”, an essential Museum,
unique in the world, according to the international art press. It’s an
open-air, free-entry museum, presenting over 3,627 works, welcoming 120,000
visitors every year. Every time the world art press talks about the Abode of
Chaos, Artprice is of course mentioned.
How could one build Artprice out of nothing, an almost-mythical company
which sources 90% of the world press on art market information, without being
oneself, body and soul, an artist who is passionate about the history of art?
You can’t imagine the number of visitors to my Museum, now number two in
in terms of the number of visitors, who are Artprice clients or shareholders.
Every year we hold our annual general meeting at the Abode of Chaos and all
we’ve been given are encouragements for the past 10 years.
In terms of clients, and particularly world art galleries, they are
extremely aware of working with Artprice, whose founder has been registered
for over 25 years with rights holder companies as a sculptor. Take a look at
my entry in Who’s Who and you’ll understand. I have lots of work on show
worldwide. You should be aware that the art world is highly sensitive and, in
the 90′s certain purists saw Artprice, with its indices, prices and
statistics, as a group that did not understand the sensitivity of their
world, not to mention the fact that we were listed on the Stock Market. But
with the Abode of Chaos these same purists have become our most loyal
customers. That’s the real answer to your question!
BOURSICA.COM: How would you value Artprice?
For nearly 120 years, according to the comparables method, the value of
an Auction House in the world is 80% the client file, at between
understand the difference between one client valued at
hold on the end customer.
BOURSICA.COM: Could you be clearer, with a specific example?
Let’s take the example of a sale by the sculptor Arman (1928/2005). You
could define a degree 1
4,500 clients who buy new realists like
it also has clients who buy only Arman sculptures, in the knowledge that he
is also a painter and a photographer. But the ultimate offer, the one that
only Artprice can offer to date, is degree 3 where one can offer the 4,500
clients in the world who are looking for Arman sculptures on the highly
specific theme of “organic waste”. Within this context, holding this final
information is the absolute Holy Grail for Auction Houses or Dealers. Because
they can be certain that bids will reach a maximum. One can therefore presume
that degree 3 is value in the upper bracket, at around
This is the oldest method of valuing an Auction House. The great value of
Artprice is that, for a sale, we can find collectors throughout the world
who, by their presence, will double or even triple the selling price of a
work of art. In a catalogued sale for a well-known artist, new collectors
from the other side of the world can double the sale and, in this respect,
Artprice is the only company to hold details of these famous collectors, in
210 different countries.
We can state without any difficulty that we currently have on Artprice
100% of those who count in the art market, the great dealers, the great
collectors, all the Auction Houses and Experts, the hard core, those who make
and unmake prices, known as market-makers. They are all systematically
clients of Artprice.
BOURSICA.COM: Even your critics are on Artprice?
Even our fiercest critics use our data. We have 1,300,000 clients, you
can consider that value is made according to the level of research of
clients. The more clients who are looking for something specific we have, the
greater the value of these clients. We are certain of offering the narrowest
search criteria. The narrower the search, the more the client is in a
position to increase prices at auction and therefore this client is all the
more interesting for the Auction House.
We have an extremely complete client file with over 18 billion logs,
respecting the demands of the CNIL and European and American authorities,
which enables us to know exactly what our clients own or are looking for.
Putting things into perspective I really believe that this is currently the
best method by which to valorise an Auction House because it is 120 years old
and is still up to date, tried and tested thousands of time over, worldwide.
BOURSICA.COM: What will be the level of commission you earn on the
We are very competitive because intermediation is at 37.5% according to
the Voluntary Sales Council, which is the AMF of the art market, whereas we
will be at between 4.5% and 7%. We will be better than a bank for a gallery.
We will take 4.5% for the transaction and, in addition, between 3% and 4.5%
on the hire of the client file we have just talked about, which will enable
Auction Houses to target potential buyers better, because we put into contact
with the Auction House people looking for Arman works and, better still,
offering them the “Arman Organic Waste” period customers, for example.
Similarly, commission will be 4.5% on private sales.
BOURSICA.COM: Is Artprice ripe for a takeover bid?
A hostile takeover bid is impossible due to the fact that the Serveur
Group controls the Artprice capital, on the other hand a friendly takeover
bid, why not, if it is logical in terms of the industry, notably with an
auction house listed on the Stock Market, we would think about it.
To better understand Artprice, its reference document or annual report
should be consulted, those are real gold mines in terms of sensitive
information and are really up to date and detailed.
BOURSICA.COM: Does Artprice have any competitors?
No, that’s stated clearly in the report, because everything is protected
under intellectual property law. We only have, within a different perimeter,
the company Artnet which achieves in volume in one year on the stock market,
the same as we achieve in a week. Artnet is not in the same business as we
are, it is listed only on a non-regulated stock market and its accounts are
not audited. We see it as a luxury host site which does not own its own
production tool. Also, it has not always respected copyright law in a certain
number of countries. In addition it’s had its brand Artnet snatched due to
lack of vigilance by over 18 different depositors in 21 countries, some of
which are major countries…. Finally, its rates are outrageous, with a
limited number of requests per month, something which was done on the
Internet at the beginning of the 90′s. We consider that, in order to be world
leader, you have to implement an extremely aggressive pricing policy, like
Dell, which I see as a model and which has thrashed the world of PCs and
BOURSICA.COM: Is Artprice abusing its dominant position?
No! Your question contains the answer, what is punished by the
competition authorities is the abuse, not the dominant position, we haven’t
refused any sale, our prices reflect the reality of our costs and investments
and we have no selective sales policy, but above all we are the original
authors of all the products and services offered by Artprice, offering a new
and innovative approach. Some people have attempted to make this claim, but
their cases have been systematically dismissed.
To take the market fairly but aggressively, such low prices would be
necessary that a hypothetical competitor would immediately be operating at a
loss since they would not have done like us and paid for all the investments
over a 14 year period.
The proof of this is that during the period 2000/2010 no competitor
arrived on the scene, on the other hand countless numbers of art sites have
gone bankrupt and closed down due to lack of traffic and therefore, turnover;
Every week we get about ten requests for buyouts of brands, websites or DNS
but they are absolutely of no interest to us, with the exception of some
highly specific micro databases in emerging countries.
BOURSICA.COM: Did you try and buy out Artnet?
We were asked three times to buy out Artnet, but it was of no interest to
us, at the risk of being subject to a large number of lawsuits. As for the
brand, in view of the fact that it is not registered worldwide we would have
been immediately caught up in intellectual property conflicts with the other
owners of Artnet, who are in their own rights.
BOURSICA.COM: It would appear that other DNS can access the Artprice
Yes, of course, such as for example Artmarket.com. We have 1,800 DNS
which are generics around the Art market in 9 languages. If you type
Artmarket into Google, you get Artprice as number 1 in ranking thanks to the
DNS Artmarket.com. We registered the entire semantic at the beginning of the
90′s, in order to address the art market.
Some of them are worth their weight in gold today because there are
generics in the purest state, such as Artmarket, but we refuse to sell them.
BOURSICA.COM: Do you have any new clients?
Yes, we get new clients every day and we realise that the average age of
our customers is increasing because we have people who discover the Internet,
to such an extent that we have to help them in their navigation on the site,
and on The Internet in general. We have a policy of going to seek out new
clients, wherever they are, and accompanying them on Artprice. This clientele
is called, amongst other things the “silver surfers”, as defined by the
giants in marketing as being surfers with silver (grey) hair, in other words,
Seniors (over the age of 55). Similarly, we are seeing more and more young
collectors, with an average age of 30/35 years, whence the phenomenal success
of the Artprice Smartphone subscription. The Art Market has indeed increased
worldwide from 500,000 collectors just after the war to a current total of
almost 300 million art-lovers, collectors and professionals, whose favourite
hunting grounds are the Internet with the market going virtual, notably with
Artprice’s normalised market place. And the Asian continent has created an
explosion in the Art Market, in terms of market players.
BOURSICA.COM: How is Artprice’s financial health?
Unlike the vast majority of listed companies, we do not have a single
cent in debt. No bank overdraft, short, medium or long term loans, no
financial instruments to reimburse such as BSA and other derivative
products… That’s what very often amazes the AMF!! We also have a good cash
flow and negative working capital requirements.
I should point out that I am deeply hostile to any increases in capital
which not only dilute shareholders but also, and this is often forgotten,
prevent a listed company from seeing its price rising very rapidly. Proof is
that Artprice has about 4 million shares in circulation. If we were like most
of the companies on the regulated Eurolist, there would rather be between 20
and 40 million shares in circulation and we would have increased by only
45 market trading sessions of around
BOURSICA.COM: With the volumes we have seen, why hasn’t the declaration
threshold been crossed?
According to our latest TPI enquiry and estimates, we have increased from
18,000 shareholders to a possible estimate of around 27,000 shareholders. In
2010 81% of our clients were Artprice shareholders. This is a proof of
security because they know almost everything about Artprice, sometimes
they’re the ones who identify targets for us to buy or give us ideas for
improving our databases.
BOURSICA.COM: What about the Chinese funds?
For them the notion of crossing a threshold is not one they understand,
they enter through a multitude of accounts, which enables them to remain
under the threshold limit. We have made conference calls to fund managers,
2/3 of whom are in
that they are not buying for French customers.
BOURSICA.COM: How long do you think it will be before the legislative
course is completed for the Law on the liberation of auction sales?
It’s a question of weeks, at most. It should be pointed out that in less
than 45 years
now in first place, followed by the
Also, the Drouot scandal has weighed very heavily. Every week we come
across consequences of that business, investigations have only just begun. I
suggest you read the book “Adjuge Vole” (“Auctioned and Stolen”) by
would appear to have decided to go all the way, knowing that Drouot
represents 45% of the French art market. We have exasperated the Europeans
with adaptation of this directive into domestic law and there is enormous
fines being imposed by the European Court of Justice. Moreover, the French
Art Market Authority, the CVV, considers that it would be suicidal for
to go for a minimal reform and after the injunctions from
highly likely that the matter will go before the ECJ very soon.
We were the first to draft the code of law, the Code des Ventes
Volontaires et Judiciaires in 2000, which has now become the reference
amongst French auctioneers. It’s the only book (1800 pages) which refers to
the first reform of 2000 and its non-application. That reform of 2000 was a
gigantic farce because Auctioneers have remained with their monopoly of 1535
with, amongst other things, the obligation of requesting an authorisation for
In cases where this was given just a few days or even a few hours before
the sale it proved a real obstacle to free movement of products and services
We have all the factors for success. The process has been definitely
endorsed. The train of History is on its way and we are in that train, which
nothing can stop now. We only had to be very patient and determined against
this monopoly which has lasted almost 500 years, by following the way of the
legislative cross for 10 years.
BOURSICA.COM: Why haven’t you moved away?
Because the cost of going would have been greater, not to mention other
incidences such as communicating in a foreign language, a new stock market,
physical moving of all the system, the staff, etc.
BOURSICA.COM: What have you got to say about the ISF (tax on fortune)?
That’s a very serious subject. It’s the UMP parliamentary block that has
made this proposal. Their analysis is to set up an ISF that targets only
indisputable latent capital gains. I don’t necessarily agree with it, I do
not believe that it is the right solution but parliamentarians have
understood that Artprice enables them to say to collectors that there is an
exact gain for the works of art they own. On the other hand, clearly this
will be good for the Artprice marketplace because people can benefit from
remaining anonymous, with Artprice protecting the identities of both buyer
and seller. This is not possible in actual auction sales rooms. We noticed
that the number of creations of virtual portfolios by our clients exploded on
the day the announcement was made and during the ensuing hours, to simulate
the price of their collection.
BOURSICA.COM: Can we be thinking about rapid transition to the SRD Long
Maybe in September, it’s up to the Euronext scientific committee to
decide, but clearly we exceed the entry criteria.
BOURSICA.COM: Have you backtested your system for future on-line auctions?
Yes of course we have. We have carried out beta tests abroad and
everything is operational. Auction Houses are already linked up to our
Intranet for catalogues. For the marketplace I think there will be 80%
Auction Houses and professionals and 20% collectors and individuals. As soon
as the law is passed our best clients will be the Auctioneers. They say
themselves “we can only do it with Artprice”. They let the Internet train
pass them by at the end of the 90′s and then again in 2005 and now it’s too
late and too expensive. The show has already sold out.
BOURSICA.COM: How far has Artprice penetrated the Chinese market?
In order to succeed we have acquired lots of Chinese databases, otherwise
it would have been impossible. We have had the extremely diplomatic help of
the Chinese authorities; we had to have it because Chinese Auction Houses are
partially controlled by the government. The cultural affairs department in
Chinese staff in
for the Chinese market and the moment when we became operational.
BOURSICA.COM: Did you have any difficulties in becoming world leader?
You’re sometimes criticised for your procedural attitude?
Yes, and I take 100% responsibility for it. We’ve had to face 126 law
suits in 14 years in several countries, particularly brought by distributors
of price list books which we had bought from the publishing houses and who
wanted their share on The Internet, we have also had disputes with the
numerous counterfeiters of Artprice, for whom we have zero tolerance. We have
won 117 of these cases, including all the main ones. Such as those against
the 5 French Auction Houses, some of which are with Drouot actually, they all
refrained from going to the Appeal Court, except Camard whom we are
prosecuting. The cases we lost were against third parties who had no impact
on the life of the company, its accounts or its objectives. Christie’s World
is one of our greatest victories.
BOURSICA.COM: Can we hope for a dividend in the near future?
Yes, I think in 2013/2014 according to our forecasts. Before that I think
we will have enriched our shareholders quite considerably through the share
price. First we will increase equity in order to finance the servers and
other very expensive equipment we require to enable us to develop worldwide
with maximum security. Remember that we are the only ones to own our own
machine rooms. We are considered as Internet pioneers in
Group was the first French provider and the second in
Time Magazine. The wealth created for our shareholders will be such in terms
of the share price that they can’t have share and dividend to begin with!
Particularly since we have never increased our capital.
BOURSICA.COM: What will be the impact of the change of status after the
law on the annual turnover figure?
It will absolutely explode! Growth will be colossal.
BOURSICA.COM: Can we consider that at
of the story?
It will be noted that the price is returning to the levels reached in
2005/2006 when we started to talk about transposing the Services Directive.
began its 5-year exasperation of
want to think about this seriously, we can only start with a basis of
which was the top price reached. We have kept all the commitments included in
our introductory prospectus. We are even well above the commitments made in
the 1999 prospectus.
didn’t exist. We therefore have the right to expect, quite logically, a start
price that will be positioned above
very old stock market rule.
BOURSICA.COM: And to end with, what is your prediction for the future of
With regard to our commitments, which at the time were very ambitious on
the 1999 introductory prospectus, we have met them all, well beyond the
prospectus actually, coming through the 2000 NASDAQ crisis, the terrorist
crisis which began in 2007 and which is far from over. With this decade,
which has been the most catastrophic in the past two centuries, I know of
only very few companies listed on the regulated stock market which have come
out alive, without increasing their capital and which, during this same
period, have acquired an undisputed world-leader position. To close this
interview, I sincerely believe that we have only seen 10% of the history of
Source: http://www.artprice.com (c)1987-2011 thierry Ehrmann
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