NEW YORK—Sotheby’s Hong Kong registered $135.33 million in Hong Kong during a four-day series of sales from April 7-10 that included Chinese works of art ($58.17 million), contemporary Chinese art ($27.63 million), fine Chinese paintings ($15.21 million), watches ($2.96 million) and jewels and jadeite ($31.34 million).
Henry Howard-Sneyd, deputy chairman of Europe and Asia and managing director of Sotheby’s Asia, reports that “sales have tripled during the last five years of spectacular growth at Sotheby’s Hong Kong with the emergence of collectors from the People’s Republic of China and a global spread of collecting across all categories.”
Soaring prices for contemporary Chinese art continued to dominate the sales. The highlight of the $27.63 million auction of Chinese contemporary art on April 7 was Put Down Your Whip, an oil on canvas by Xu Beihong (1895-1953), estimated at about $3.8 million, which flew to $9.28 million, a record for any Chinese painting at auction as well as an artist’s record. The large oil had been completed in 1939 during Xu’s stay in Singapore. Patti Wong, chairman of Sotheby’s Asia, observed that the market “remains very strong at the top end, with new buyers also entering each season.”
An auction record was set for Liu Ye, when Sinking Ship, 1995, sold for $907,000 (estimate: $258,000/387,000) to a European collector. Other records were set for the works 22.11.2004, by Michael Lin (Lin Minghong), and Tormenting Love, by Hou Junming.
Six bidders pursued Zhang Xiaogang’s Tiananmen No. 1, 1993, before it fell to an Asian private collector on the phone for $1.99 million (estimate: $644,000/902,000).
New Buyers Pay Top Prices
Comments Evelyn Lin, head of the contemporary Chinese art department and deputy director, Asia: “The sale demonstrated the increasing strength in the market for Chinese contemporary art. There were new buyers from Asia and Europe, and collectors were willing to pay premium prices for seminal works.”
At recent Asian contemporary auctions, however, many of the top prices have been paid for works that are just a few years old. For instance, at the Sotheby’s auction, some recent works by Zhang Xiaogang fetched strong prices, including Big Family Series, 2006, which made $757,405 (estimate: $640,000/896,000); and Little Graduate (From My Dream), 2005, which took $685,800 (estimate: $320,000/448,000).
A four-panel oil on canvas by Zhu Dequn (b. 1920), Force d’âme, 2004-05, realized $1 million (estimate: $896,000/1.9 million). A much earlier work by the artist, Composition No. 268, 1967-68, sold for $900,700 (estimate: $768,000/1 million).
Three sales were devoted to Chinese works of art. They included Chinese art from the collection of an anonymous Parisian connoisseur ($16.53 million); historical works of art from the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), Qianlong reign, from 1736-95 ($12.57 million); and Chinese ceramics and works of art ($29.07 million). The buyer breakdown for the three Chinese works of art sales: Asian, 78.2%; American, 20.2%; and European, 1.6%.
Nicholas Chow, Sotheby’s head of Chinese ceramics and works of art, said the pieces in the Parisian connoisseur sale included “remarkable Chinese porcelain—largely Imperial—which had been out of China for a long time. The market responded to this fresh material with enthusiasm by repatriating many works back into Chinese hands.”
A rare, decorated faceted Famille-rose vase, bearing the seal mark of the Qing dynasty, Yongzheng period (1723-35), was acquired by Hong Kong dealer Chak’s Company Ltd. for $2.92 million, several times the high estimate of $1 million. The Seven Jade Imperial Archer’s Rings, along with its original fitted cinnabar box and cover, also of the Qing dynasty, fetched $6.1 million.
Highlighting the sale of ceramics was a rare Falangcai enamel miniature vase, mark and period of Qianlong, which was acquired by an Asian private buyer for $4.37 million, well above the high estimate of $1.5 million.
In the Chinese paintings category, Li Keran’s Waterfall in Tiers 1987, was acquired by a private Asian buyer for $1.08 million (estimate: $231,000/319,000) to the applause of the crowd.