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Shinwa auction house plans expansion into Impressionist market

Leading “open” auction house seeks financing, wants to sell major paintings

Shinwa Art Auction, one of Japan’s leading “open” auction houses, is planning to take on its larger international competitors by moving into the major Impressionist market.

Although minor European paintings already appear on its books, Shinwa specialises in selling modern Japanese paintings and ceramics to a largely Japanese clientele. Shinwa is now seeking investment from banks and corporations to enable it to expand its operations and become a public company by 2006. A spokesman for Shinwa commented: "We want to deal in major Impressionist works and that requires a significant capital investment. We would also like to create new departments."

The market for major European works in Japan was severely dented after the collapse of the bubble economy in the early 1990s. Given Japan’s continuing economic uncertainty Shinwa’s new direction is a bold move. "It is a risk and we don’t know if it will be successful, but we want the company to grow. Initially we might have to buy the works abroad and sell them here at below purchase price to encourage the Japanese market", said the spokesman.

The pictures will be sold in Japan but Shinwa will be aiming at an international clientele. The spokesman also commented that Shinwa could be looking to open offices outside Japan in the future. Shinwa’s plans for diversification and expansion are already underway and the company is currently taking on an extra three or four people a year.

Following the success of Christie’s wine auction in Tokyo last November, Shinwa is testing the Japanese market with its first wine sale in March. In June last year, Shinwa announced its collaboration with US Internet auction site, Leftbid. The plan was to broadcast Shinwa’s auctions live on the Leftbid website thus allowing purchasers from outside Japan to participate in the bidding process.

However the experiment has been less than successful, in part because of the specialised nature of the market for modern Japanese painting outside Japan. Leftbid was not involved in the December auction, and the alliance seems to have been quietly dropped.

Shinwa, which was founded in 1990 by five Tokyo galleries, holds approximately 35% of the auction market in Japan, and is one of the few auction houses with public access. Most firms are by membership only. In December Shinwa set a new record for a modern Japanese painting when Ryusei Kishida’s portrait of his daughter Reiko (1920) was sold for Y 360 million (£2.08m, $3,07m).

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Shinwa plans expansion'