Covid has “turbo-charged the online art market”

In the words of Robert Read, Head of Art and Private Clients at Hiscox, the Covid-19 pandemic has “turbo-charged the online art market” with a dramatic uptick in sales over the past year. Hiscox have just released part two of their Online Art Trade Report 2020 following on from the first part published in July of this year.

Read’s introduction to the report noted that the shift to online sales “has been quicker and more successful than anyone would have imagined. Faced with no other option, the market has embraced that change, illustrating the creativity and guile that courses through the market’s veins.”

“I have no doubt that there will be much pent-up demand to physically see art, as there is to eat out, go to concerts, see friends and all the rest, but I believe, and this report shows, that we have reached a watershed moment in the development of the online art market.”

Strong evidence for this online boom is especially apparent with the main auction houses. Online art sales at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips shot up over the first 8 months of 2020 to hit $597 million, nearly triple the $168 million achieved over the same time period in 2019.

Overall collectors have increased their online art spend, with 29% paying an average of $10,000+ per artwork compared with just 20% in 2019. Those prepared to pay $50,000 and over also increased from 4% in 2019 to 11% in 2019, suggesting that art buyers are now comfortable enough to hand over larger sums on online platforms.

The report noted that 67% of online art buyers bought work online from March to September 2020, representing a rise of 44% compared with 2019. Of the 552 collectors surveyed for the report, some 72% recorded finding themselves browsing online sales weekly, up from 54% in 2019. The combination of lockdown boredom, gallery closures and art fair cancellations seems to have tempted art enthusiasts to pursue their interest online, with many also choosing to follow through and purchase online.

This trend is particularly pronounced amongst younger and newer art buyers, many of whom are starting their art collections digitally. The report found that 69% of under 35s bought online, significantly up on the 40% recorded in 2019. Interestingly, this is not simply impulse buying since 66% of this age group purchased between 2-5 pieces since the beginning of the pandemic. 82% of novice collectors, those who have been buying art for less than 3 years, also reported buying art online compared with just 36% in 2019.

Younger and newer collectors were particularly inspired by galleries and auction houses showing exciting work by emerging artists. 50% of under 35s and 60% of new collectors choose a particular online platform because it has “new and interesting art for sale”. This trend is expected to become particularly important over the next few years as millennials increasingly enter and begin to shape the art market.

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