The art market has bounced back worldwide after prices slumped by more than 10 percent last year as investors look for a safer alternative to falling stock markets, the leading index Artprice said Friday.
Chinese collectors had driven rocketing prices over the past few years that peaked in May 2015 when Picasso's masterpiece the "The Women of Algiers (Version 0)" sold for a $179 million (162 million euros), the highest price ever paid for a work of art.
Sales later cooled off considerably due to a "readjustment of the Chinese market", Artprice said, with the global total for the year falling nearly $2 billion short of 2014's high of $17.9 billion.
But the world's leading art auction database said figures for the first two months of this year show a strong recovery.
Artprice's president Thierry Ehrmann told AFP that with the world's markets in turmoil, investors were returning to put their money in art "as a real alternative" to stocks and shares.
In the first seven weeks of the year prices recovered by 7.2 percent, he said.
- Impressionists down -
The figures seem to give the lie to pessimistic reports from auctions of Impressionist, modern and Surrealist works in London and New York, which saw drops in sales figures of up to half on the same period last year.
Experts had also said that with fears over falling prices, fewer of the highest quality paintings and sculptures were coming to market.
But Artprice said that with interest rates now close to zero and with greater access to auctions over the Internet, "all the conditions are in place for the price levels to rise further".
The company said that when the fall-off in interest from Chinese collectors is factored out, art prices were stable in 2015.
The dramatic 27-percent drop in buyers from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan came in the first half of 2015, it said, with a slight three percent rise in activity from those areas in the latter months of the year.
After dominating the big art sales for several years, Chinese collectors slipped back into second place after knocking American buyers from the top of the tree in 2014.
The United States accounted for 38 percent of all art bought in 2015, while only 12 percent of the total worth of art sold came from sellers there.
Traditionally, art is seen as a "lagging market" which takes time to reflect changes in economic conditions.